UAE aims to lessen reliance on Asian workers

DUBAI, Nov 20, 2006 (AFP) – The United Arab Emirates (UAE) president announced plans to gradually replace Asian workers with nationals to redress the demographic imbalance in his country, in a newspaper interview Monday.

Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nayhan told London-based Asharq Al-Awsat he was aware of “the seriousness of the imbalance” in the oil-rich Gulf state where foreigners make up some 80 percent of the four-million population.

The solution was a “progressive” nationalisation of the workforce with local, qualified workers taking over from non-Emiratis, he said.

The president called for the economy to be restructured in a way that would cut down on “the mass of unqualified foreign workers who account for the biggest factor in the demographic imbalance”.

Foreign labourers, mostly from the Indian sub-continent, have been powering the UAE’s construction boom but their working conditions have been a regular target of criticism by rights groups.

Sheikh Khalifa, however, said they “can not be classified as immigrant workers as they work here on a provisional basis under fixed term contracts.

“As a result, the standing laws on immigration in Western countries can not apply fully to these workers