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The GCC countries are all, to varying degrees, ‘characterised by idiosyncrasies that set their labor markets apart from much of the rest of the world’, and have employment levels that are internationally low, a report published by Saudi newspaper said.

The UAE’s total employment is 53% while the corresponding figure in Saudi Arabia tends to be just below 50%, Arab News said in a report on Thursday. Qatar, by contrast, boasts a much high rate of 75%, partly reflecting the numerical dominance of expatriate residing in the country on work visas, the report added.

According to the findings, low labour force participation by women is partly ‘behind the state of affairs’. “Due to cultural reasons and the persistent norm of large families, female workforce participation tends to be significantly lower than that of male,” the report noted.

Saudi women make up 16.5% of the total national labour force. The report claimed that while 62.5% of the UAE’s male citizens were economically active in 2009, the corresponding figure for women was only 27.5%. These figures stand in an increasingly stark contrast to the dominance of women at institutions of tertiary education where they increasingly outnumber men, the study revealed.

Dramatic differences were highlighted in the sector-level labour market participation by nationals who tend to have a very strong bias in favour of public sector employment. In Saudi Arabia, 92% of public sector employment in 2011 was made up of nationals who occupied a total of 919,108 positions.

In contrast, their share of the private sector labour force in 2010 was only 10.4% as they held a total of 724,655 positions. In the UAE, Emirati nationals occupy only 43,000 of the 2.2 million private sector jobs whereas the public sector employs 495,000 Emiratis.

The preference for public sector employment is in part due to more attractive compensation and working hours, the Arab News report said. The Saudi newspaper added that overstaffing is adversely affecting job quality and human capital development in many Gulf countries including Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

A recent Gallup survey found that a majority of women in Arab nations demanded equal legal rights and access to education and employment and stressed that the greatest challenge in the quest to women’s empowerment is not religion but the lack of economic and social development and a dearth of perceived security.

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