How can Qatar beef up its appeal for foreign workers?
September 07 2013 11:05 PM

By Dr Arno Maierbrugger

An easy question, it seems: Pay them a multiple of what they would earn at home. That’s true, but does only apply to highly-skilled personnel from Europe and the US who can pocket up to QR75,000 ($20,600) a month as executives or top engineers.

However, Qatar’s ongoing massive infrastructure developments and construction projects also require an army of low- to semi-skilled workers, and there is where the question applies. Construction workers, carpenters, electricians or mechanics, most of whom come from South or Southeast Asia to work in Qatar, are getting around QR2,500 ($686) a month, and low-skilled workers such as construction helpers won’t earn much more than QR1,500 ($412), according to the job board at a recruiting agency for the Middle East here in Bangkok.

It is understandable that with the continuously rising minimum wages in Southeast Asia–albeit from a low level-the appeal for many to move to the Gulf and work in an unfamiliar cultural and social environment has diminished. There are reports that manpower agencies in Qatar have begun looking desperately for workers willing to take on work at the many construction sites in Doha, and they are increasingly unsuccessful in attracting people.

Thais, Filipinos, Vietnamese and even Malaysians and Indonesians, with the two latter being familiar to the Muslim culture in the Gulf, have started to ponder if the comparably low salaries they can land in the Gulf are really worth the hassle of leaving their families, adapt to lifestyle changes, and bear the weather and the unfamiliar food.

Furthermore, many start looking more intensively for jobs within the region, with South Korea, Japan and Taiwan becoming much more attractive to them in terms of salaries and a culture they can more easily adapt to. There are also new emerging labour markets for them such as Turkey, Kazakhstan or Ukraine where at least mid-level jobs are compensated more generously than in the Gulf. Some feel even drawn by Brazil or South Africa rather than by the Gulf. In another case, a 46-year old Filipino mechanic from Cebu told me that after three years he has had enough from working in the Gulf and landed a job with an Australian oil company in Papua New Guinea, not too far from home, that pays him twice the wage than in Qatar.

Thus, Qatar needs to rethink how it can further attract the required number of blue-collar workers for its ambitious projects, most notably by raising salaries and offer them competitive packages.


Has working in the Gulf for low-to mid-level workers from Asia become more unalluring? What is your experience? Would better salary packages help? Let us know through Twitter: @insideinvestor using hashtag #gulftimes.


*Our columnist Dr Arno Maierbrugger is Editor-in-Chief of, a news portal owned by Inside Investor focusing on Southeast Asian economic topics as well as trade and investment relations between Asean and the GCC. The views expressed are his own.


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