Recent national and cultural celebrations of the non-Qatari population highlighted the increasing visibility of the large expatriate workforce in the emirate. While the public sector constitutes the largest employer of ethnic Qataris, private enterprises are heavily dependant on expatriate workers.
The August 15 celebrations of the 60th anniversary of India's Independence Day, preceded by celebrations of Pakistan's national day on August 14, demonstrated the size and growing cultural significance of the expatriate community.
Pakistani workers held celebrations at the Qatar Fertilizer Company (QAFCO) facilities in Messaieed industrial city and at Qatar Electricity and Water Company's (QEWC) facilities in Ras Abu Aboud. QEWC also celebrated India's Independence Day, hosting an event that included a speech by the Indian Ambassador to Qatar, George Joseph.
India's Independence Day was also celebrated with a carnival held at the Doha Cinema, organised by the Indian Embassy's Cultural Centre (ICC). At least four of Qatar's local Indian schools and several cultural organisations took part in the event, which was sponsored by Qatar Airways. QAFCO also acted as an associate sponsor.
The involvement of large Qatari businesses in the proceedings also shows the country's economic dependence on its expatriate workforce.
"The recognition of national celebrations is a positive development that demonstrates the diversity of nationalities represented in the emerging Qatar economy," said Nathalie Mathews, HR director at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Qatar.
Some estimates say that 75% of the country's population of roughly 863,000 is made up of non-Qatari workers and nearly 40% of the total population comes from the Indian subcontinent. For example, just over 19% of the country's population comes from India, with the Indian Embassy confirming that around 172,000 Indian citizens are currently working in Qatar.
Meanwhile, a report from the Planning Council released this year showed that ethnic Qatari's account for only 11% of total employment in Qatar.
While the construction, manufacturing, trade and the domestic services sectors make up four of the country's five largest industries in terms of numbers employed, these industries employ almost no native Qataris. Instead, these sectors are almost entirely staffed by expatriate workers.
The 'wider public sector' is the largest employer of Qatari nationals, although Qataris still only make up 51% of those employed.
Consequently, the report suggests that further developments in the private sector would be required before employment in the public sector would be 'less attractive' for Qataris.
Despite this, with the public sector willing to absorb the national population, unemployment figures in Qatar are low, typically less than 2%. Yet, as the government is conscious of the importance of private business in terms of economic growth, the authorities put Qatarisation measures in place. The government's current policy, issued in 1997, anticipates 20% Qatarisation of private companies within the next three years.
Notably, the energy sector provides an exception. Qatarisation targets are more stringently applied - 50% in five years - and in many cases this is broadly achievable.
While the energy sector is key to Qatar's development, the planning council report highlighted a need for a review of labour positions. To achieve broad Qatarisation reforms across the economy, positions where Qataris could replace expatriate workers will need to be identified and adapted.
In some ways, this is already the case and the department of labour issues visa approvals to expatriates only after comparing requests submitted to it against a list of unemployed Qataris.
Overall, Qataris may simply not be qualified to take on certain jobs, while other jobs may appear to be too menial for consideration by Qatari workers. These jobs are likely to continue to be offered to the expatriate workers in the long-term. Ultimately, it is still easier for private businesses to hire non-Qataris with relevant skills that are interested in the positions available and willing to work for less.