Desert jewel a rough diamond

By Jacqueline Smith

Within a year, Auckland will host its first Dubai career expo - a recruitment drive for the rapidly growing United Arab Emirate, where salaries are tax-free and it costs less than $20 to fill your petrol tank.

Last year, more than 700 Kiwis left for the United Arab Emirates (UAE), permanently or long term.

Each day, about 700 people from around the globe arrive in Dubai and apply for work permits, which are granted to all who find employment.

But the handful of New Zealand workers is dwarfed by the thousands of British and Australian expatriates turning up to make their fortune - or at least build up their savings.

Compared with Sydney and London, Dubai rates low as a destination for Kiwis' great overseas experience or cash injection, says Jason Walker, regional director of Hays New Zealand, the international recruitment company hosting the expo.

He says the UAE is desperately seeking Kiwi workers to help turn it into a sustainable economy by 2015 when the oil is expected to run out.

"Businesses in the United Arab Emirates need to hire talent that isn't present in the economy or the Emirati population. Kiwis are seen as an untapped resource."

Forty-two per cent of the world's cranes are in Dubai and the Dubai International Financial Centre opened two years ago to service an exploding population and emerging economy.

Highway engineers, water engineers, architects and lawyers are in high demand and can command salaries 50 to 70 per cent higher than in New Zealand. But Walker warns that service industry jobs do not attract such high salaries as Emirati are happy to hire anyone who can do the job, rather than paying more for top quality.

Dubai's globally central location, generous tax regime and hot climate attract mid-career professionals from across the globe, Walker says.

Although the population is culturally diverse, with only 3 per cent United Emirati nationals, English is spoken across the country and is used in the business community. "It is very popular with young professionals looking to save a greater share of their income or young families who want a safe, crime-free environment," says Walker.

He says fewer Kiwis take up the opportunity because there's a lack of information about life in the Middle East and also because there is a skills shortage here.

But the costs of housing and private education have doubled in the past three years and increased commodity costs and the falling US dollar are quickly raising the cost of living, taking the sheen off the destination.

Auckland's Steve Livesay was on his OE in London when he bought a one-way ticket to Dubai in July 2005.

He saw a move to the shimmering desert metropolis as way to increase his disposable income, boost his career and escape the dreariness of London.

An engineer, Livesay had no trouble landing a job, and while his salary was less than in London, not paying tax meant he and his wife could save more of their income.

But, Livesay says, the larger disposable income came at a cost to their lifestyle. He was working a six-day week, and had less of a social life than he had enjoyed in London.

"Dubai is a tough place to live - it can be stressful and draining," he says.

And he and his wife became aware of the selfishness of the emirate.

"Everyone is there for themselves to earn money. That is reflected in all factors - in the way people treat one another on the roads, in restaurants.

"When we went back to visit London we were blown away by how polite people were, when before we had found London a bit of a rat-race.

"I would much prefer to go to London, and if went back to the Middle East it would be to Abu Dhabi, or somewhere a bit quieter.

Now working as a construction manager for Fletcher Building's engineering sector, Livesay says he would recommend Dubai to Kiwis, but with a warning. "They have to be prepared - it's not all sweet and light. The rewards are there but it is challenging."

Recruitment manager Mary-Jane Richards did not last as long Livesay - she left on November 24 last year and returned on March 12.

Friends had spoken about the money and lifestyle, and as a single woman with two mortgages, Richards thought a stint in Dubai could be an easy way to build up her savings.

A quick Google search brought up an advertisement for a recruitment job in a Dubai law firm. She applied, got it, and was off.

The company paid for her flight, and pledged $10,000 towards furnishing her apartment. The salary was similar to what she earned in New Zealand only without tax, but the $50,000 rent meant she would not pocket as much as she expected. "The thing about Dubai is that it's all shiny on top, and underneath it just isn't," she says.

It took Richards two months to get an internet connection and television at home, and antiquated systems meant it was common to queue for two hours to get a licence, pay bills and set up amenities.

"For me, and my values, the money just wasn't worth it. I was all alone, I was making friends but they weren't friends and family I've got here.

"It seemed a bit shallow and I had a few instances of being chased by Emirati in blacked-out SUVs. It's great to be home again."

A mother of a toddler, who would not be named for fear of jeopardising her husband's position in Dubai, told the Herald on Sunday there was not enough information available to wives following their husbands to Dubai. She spoke of internet censorship (parts of her social networking Facebook page were banned) excessive traffic jams, scorpions and the obvious racial hierarchy.

Being a 20-hour flight from home, she felt isolated, as she often avoided leaving the house because of the traffic, the 42C heat and the jumble of construction.

She warns all wives to check the place out before blindly following their husbands.

But, she says: "I might have enjoyed it if I was a bit younger, single and working - it presents some great career and networking opportunities."

Walker hopes the expo, expected to go ahead in February 2009, will give Kiwis a better understanding of life in Dubai. He says career opportunities with "unrivalled potential" will be available over the next 10 years and the emirates could become more attractive than the United Kingdom.

"The UK's economy is fragile presently. Fifty thousand city jobs have been lost in London this year and the sub-prime crisis is unravelling at an increasing pace," says Walker.

"With oil trading at US$130 per barrel, the United Arab Emirates' economy is growing at a double-digit rate and is isolated from any ripple effect from the Western economies."

FACTFILE
* On December 2, 1971, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al-Qaiwain, Ras al-Khaimah (joined 1972) and Fujairah, formed the United Arab Emirates (UAE) after Britain, its former protector, left the Persian Gulf.
* UAE boasts traditional Islamic culture but is tolerant of foreigners of other religions.
* Visitors should not wear short, tight clothing until comfortable with the city. UAE nationals usually wear traditional dress - a white full-length shirt-dress (dishdasha or khandura) and a white or red checked head-dress (gutra) for men, and a long, black robe over normal clothes (abaya) and a headscarf for women.
* The population of Dubai in 2001 was estimated to be 971,000. This will grow to 1.4 million by 2010.
* Expatriates make up 80 per cent of the population. About 71 per cent is male.
* Long-term and permanent departures to UAE make up 1.7 per cent of the total long-term and permanent departures from New Zealand. The number of long-term and permanent departures to UAE from New Zealand has increased by 32 per cent from 1998-2008.
* UAE has a sub-tropical, arid climate with about 13cm of rainfall spread over five days of the year. Temperatures range from about 10C on winter nights to 48C at midday in summer.


- Herald on Sunday

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a4 at 17 Apr 2014 02:24:11 Processing Time: 697ms