Contesting Racially Stratified Wages in the GCC

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Mar 28 2013

Migrant Rights applauds the Gulf Business editor's recent condemnation of racial wage stratification in the GCC. The decision to publish data illustrating the distribution of pay-levels by nationality opened up a critical discussion on the merits of a racialized workforce. The dialogue amongst both GCC nationals and expatriate workers, initiated in the comments section of the page and no doubt extending beyond digital discourse, provides an opportunity to challenge the assumptions underpinning race-based wage schemes:

1. "Wage stratification is an essential component of nationalization schemes."
Higher wages for nationals in the private sphere are often a product of nationalization, as companies may need to aggressively attract locals to work for them in order to meet government-mandated quotas. The virtually unconditional guarantee of a competitive income precludes the capacity for higher wages to incentivize productivity and skill-development. Under-motivation and stagnated skill-sets contradict the long-term goals of nationalization, which aim to improve the quality - not merely the size - of the national labor force. Categorical assurances of higher wages for nationals may procure short-term gains, including the reduction of local unemployment, but fail to cultivate a work-force that is enduringly self-sustainable.

Furthermore, quota-policies that structurally drive firms to pay nationals higher salaries than equally-qualified expatriates may engender unfavorable perceptions of locals' employability; firms may perceive nationals as unpleasant legal necessities that drain resources with minimal return. In the long term, such conceptions could limit nationals' employment in non-quota positions. Additionally, expatriate co-workers may similarly perceive nationals as receiving unmerited status or pay. Resentful work environments are adverse to well-functioning, productive operations. The aim of nationalization is to meaningfully integrate the local population into the workforce with the co-objective of advancing the economy; wage stratification by nationality contradicts both of these goals by obstructing efficiency and reducing the appeal of local workers.

2. "Wage stratification doesn't have an impact on the overall economy."
Wage stratification is an inefficient method of business management. Though there may exist a perennial supply of candidates who wittingly accept unfair wages, incommensurate pay renders individuals less enthusiastic about their position; a 2006 study indicated that awareness of low prospects for future promotion negatively affected expatriates’ performance levels. Furthermore, the disproportionate allocation of financial resources to individuals with certain nationalities rather than valuable qualifications further hinders efficiency and profitability. Consequently, stratification is debilitating to the national economy as it discourages productivity among both national and expatriate workers throughout the private sector.

3. "Individuals from certain nations are better educated or receive more training than individuals from some other nations."
It may be true that individuals from certain countries enjoy greater access to training programs or preeminent education institutions. However, this possibility is not a precise measure of an individual candidate’s qualifications. Group generalizations cannot indicate the quality of work or productivity an employee provides. Employers certainly recognize that nationality is erroneously liked to perceptions of capability - otherwise the hiring process would need not include resume applications and interviews.

4. "Wage stratification based on origin aren't necessarily 'racist’ - it’s just business."
Origin-determined salaries perpetuate discrimination in both labor and social spheres. With respect to labor equality, the differentiation devalues the contributions of foreign workers as a socio-economic class and as individuals. Stratification is implicated in the exclusion of migrant workers from national labor codes and normalizes exploitative working contracts. Such disparate labor rights contravene the ILO's Migrant Worker Convention.

Additionally, the ILO notes that conceptions of worth are tied to income and that every worker has the right to wages without discrimination. Wage stratification reinforces conceptions of workers of dispensable units of labor, rather than as individuals with natural rights. The economic disparagement of certain nationalities legitimizes diminutive attitudes towards "lower rank" migrant workers and perpetuates their social exclusion.

Fair labor practices are not only essential human rights considerations but are necessary components of propitious economies. Wage stratification may be an instrument of current nationalization schemes, but it is neither economically desirable nor socially responsible. Similarly, differential pay configurations that exist outside nationalization schemes provide no economic benefit and also contravene international labor standards. It is critical to recognize that advancing human rights, labor rights, and the economy are not mutually exclusive objectives - instead, they are interconnected facets of the prosperous societies GCC nations endeavor to develop.


References:

Randeree, K. (2012). Workforce Nationalization in the Gulf Cooperation Council States. Center for International and Regional Studies, Georgetown University, School of Foreign Service in Qatar.

Das, K. C., & Gokhale, N. (2009). Localization of labor and international migration: a case study of the Sultanate of Oman. In XXVI International Population Conference of the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (Vol. 27).

Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East