The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation has recently announced that all construction facilities within the UAE, with a workforce of 500 or more employees must appoint at least one Emirati occupational health and safety officer beginning in 2017.
Despite Emiratisation (an initiative by the government of the UAE to employ its citizens in a meaningful and efficient manner in the public and private sectors) being in place for more than a decade, while results can be seen in the public sector, the private sector still currently lags behind with citizens only representing 0.34% of the private sector workforce.
The recent developments are a response to a strategic plan to promote employment opportunities for locals in the private sector and raise the number of Emiratis as a percentage of the private sector workforce, which is a seen as a key priority for leadership. The ministry took the decision on Emiratisation of occupational health and safety officers after careful consideration of the various sectors of construction, industry and major industrial enterprises operating in these sectors.
Minister of Human Resources and Emiratisation, Saqr bin Ghobash Saeed Ghobash commented:
“We will stop granting facilities with over 500 workers, any further work permits if they don’t hire at least one local occupational health and safety officer.” The minister said the construction industry provided “attractive and stable opportunities for Emirati job seekers" and encouraged citizens to apply.
Ghobash also noted the ministry's close follow-up mechanisms that shall be implemented to note down compliance levels across targeted facilities:
"I personally believe in the adherence and commitment adapted by the employers towards our decisions, especially since regulations that emphasise employing qualified citizens, is a national responsibility shared between the government and the private sector."
With GCC governments diversifying their economies from oil and gas and a consistent focus on infrastructure development across sectors, the construction industry is thriving. Activity in sectors across infrastructure, residential, commercial, hospitality, retail, etc., have seen considerable investment and the GCC region continues to be a desirable location with expanding growth prospects. The demand for housing is also steadily rising due to strong population growth.
With the construction sector frequently documented as the most dangerous area in which to work, reporting the most occupational injuries and deaths than almost any other industry sector, the challenge for the private sector now lies in ensuring its workforce is appropriately equipped to deal with the unique challenges faced by the positions required of the Emirati workforce. With such a low percentage of nationals making up the private sector workforce, organisations will need to ensure that workers are appropriately trained to meet the needs of any new job roles.
Alastair Park, Head of the Astutis Dubai Office, commented:
“Heralding some of the most ambitious infrastructure projects and architecture in the world, UAE orgainsations facing the construction boom can ill-afford to ignore the importance of ensuring their health and safety obligations are met. UAE nationals will need to demonstrate their abilities by performing the required tasks efficiently and employers will be expected to provide the right training to staff seeking to move into roles for nationals - and all this within a timeframe of just 5 months. Organisations will need to be committed to ensuring that their staff are both appropriately trained and in a timely fashion to ensure they are not denied necessary work permits to ensure momentum within their work rates.”
While, the public sector has traditionally been, and remains, the employment market of choice for Emiratis, who were rightly seen as the most appropriate stakeholders to ensure that government offices functioned with the best interests of the UAE and its citizens, this new legislation sought to be seen as an opportunity for both organisations and nationals alike. Emiratis are in a much stronger position, as citizens of the country, than expatriate workers have and accordingly, are well placed to challenge businesses and highlight any lack of compliance with employment regulations generally and Emiratisation legislation specifically.
With the right training and equipped with the correct knowledge to instil a culture of health and safety within their workforce, it is hoped that ultimately this new legislation will translate to safer workplaces and improved health and safety statistics.
For more information on specific health and safety training necessary to meet the new demands of Emiratisation, please get in touch with our team based in Knowledge Park, Dubai.