“No Filipinos, Please”: Exploring Ethnic Discrimination Within the UAE Workforce

Exploring ethnic discrimination within the workforce in the UAE.

Nov 11, 2017

discrimination Illustration by Joaquin Kunkel

“Hiring for Human Resource Cum Administrative Officer — No Filipinos Please, Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi.”

Such was the title of a part-time job advertisement on Free Ads for the position of a Human Resources Administrative Officer in Abu Dhabi. Besides Arabic and English linguistic competence, a minimum of three years’ experience in the UAE and knowledge of the Emirati labor laws, not being a Filipino national is also on the check list.

Although some employers and human resources managers see no harm in this behavioural preference in the workforce, it is condemned as an act of discrimination by the Official UAE Federal Decree Law No. 2 of 2015 on Combating Discrimination and Hatred. Issued on July 15, 2015, and signed by the President of the UAE Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, this law defines discrimination as “any distinction, restriction, exclusion or preference among individuals or groups based on the ground of religion, creed, doctrine, sect, caste, race, colour or ethnic origin.”

In an interview with The Gazelle, an Italian expatriate who lived in Dubai revealed that encountering ethnically discriminatory job announcements is very common, especially in the hospitality and sales industries in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. These job advertisements tend to be frequent on Facebook and Whatsapp. She shared the screenshots of announcements on a Facebook group for promotions and events in the UAE, in which a nationality requirement was mentioned. In one of the announcements, an employer was looking for “Female - European Only.” In the other, it was the Western appearance that mattered. “Arab females (no Hijab)” and “White Arabs [and] Eastern European Boys” were expressions used to emphasize that appearing the White was often an essential criteria for selection.

Having worked in Dubai as a hostess and as part of promotional staff between 2011 and 2015, the former expat had reportedly witnessed discrimination against her colleagues from South Asia on several occasions. The following story relates to her experience in a Formula One promotion.

“I worked from 9am until midnight, twice a week, and made around AED 5,000. They got AED 3,500 for the same job. They were mainly from Pakistan and the Philippines. I have a lot of friends from Pakistan who get paid way less than Europeans and I can guarantee that many promotional or hostessing companies only want Europeans or Western-looking people,” she said.

This is not the first time event management companies have been accused of ethnic favoritism with regards to Formula One. In 2016, students from NYU Abu Dhabi staffed the race and reported mistreatment and race-based discrimination in a conversation with the Career Development Center and The Gazelle.

The former expat also claimed that the color of their passport defines the employment package which an expatriate receives.

“I also worked with a friend from Pakistan who looks European or Western. She was going to get paid the same amount as me, AED 4,000, until she showed the company her passport. The company said, Oh! We did not think you were from Pakistan! In that case you will get paid AED 3,000. Although we tried arguing, our efforts were futile. Their excuse was that in her home country, she would get paid less than in a European country,” she added.

As stated by Dr. Nausheen Pasha-Zaidi, author and lecturer at the University of Houston-Downtown, incomes in the UAE vary by nationality. According to the findings of the Household Budget Survey 2007–2008 conducted by the Department of Economic Development in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, the average annual household income for a European or American family is approximately AED 478,600. In the meantime, the average household income for an Asian family is AED 130,500.

When asked if her Pakistani friend raised any complaints against the company, the Italian expat mentioned that she had noticed a pattern of stigmatization.

“She didn't raise any complaints as she wanted to avoid problems. Besides, she has gotten used to being paid less or getting rejected by companies because of her passport as it really has become the norm, unfortunately. This happens every single day and [the] majority of big hostessing or promotional companies do this,” she concluded.

Discrimination within the workforce has not only been present in the private hospitality and sales industry but also in other sectors. In an interview with The Gazelle, a security guard at NYU Abu Dhabi admitted not only to having been a victim of ethnic discrimination several times in his career in the security industry, but also to having been a discriminator.

“Once, I chose to promote a companion out of ten candidates to be my colleague just because he is from my country. Other candidates had better experience and skills, but here everyone wants to stay in their own circle,” said the guard.

Another former security guard in a seven-star hotel in Abu Dhabi confirmed that in his security department, the directors, managers, supervisors and even their assistants always chose their fellow countrymen to get higher posts.

Ethnic discrimination within the workforce in the UAE seems to result from two elements: the idea of superiority of fairer-skinned individuals which has deep roots within the expatriates psyche and the isolation of ethnic groups and racial nepotism pushing individuals to favour their compatriots.

In Article 6 of the Official Federal Decree Law No. 2 of 2015, any act of discrimination is condemned and shall either be sentenced to imprisonment for a period not less than five years, or fined not less than AED 500,000 and not exceeding AED 1,000,000.

The new law clearly aims to promote tolerance in the UAE irrespective of ethnic, religious, racial or color differences. According to Al-Tamimi and Company, a law firm based in the Middle East, this law has been written in moderately broad terms to ensure that it encompasses all discriminatory conduct regardless of how it is expressed. However, it remains to see whether the law will be effective in such an international and multicultural nation where around 80 percent of the country’s residents are expatriates.

Along with the UAE in their fight against discrimination, NYUAD is launching a Bias Response Line by the end of the semester. According to the Student Government Facebook Page, this mechanism will allow members of the community to share or report experiences and concerns of bias, discrimination or harassment that may occur.

Hind Ait Mout is a staff writer. Email her at [email protected]

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