Filipinos: Is it more fun in Qatar?

Street scene on Souq Waqif, Doha's "old town"

Street scene on Souq Waqif, Doha’s “old town”

During my recent jaunt to Qatar, my first time in the Middle East, I was intrigued by the amount of Asian faces I saw throughout my trip. No, not mixing about on the street scene so much, but more in the order of daily interaction with those in service positions.

According the Philippine Embassy in Qatar, 10 per cent of the tiny country’s population of some 1.8 million people are Filipino. The second most prevalent Asian group behind Indians and after Chinese, what makes the Filipinos stand out most in the Qatari work force is their role in higher management positions, part of a largest trend being scene abroad for overseas Filipinos workers (OFWs), especially those with a high command in English.

So, to follow the current tourism promotion of the archipelago, “Is it more fun in Qatar?” For some parts of the community, conspicuous movement up the labour totem pole is now seen as a possible feat. For others, business-as-usual treatment of OFWs, namely domestic workers, seems set to continue.

These days I am writing for the blog on investvine.com. Below is an excerpt of an article published there on the challenges and opportunities now being presented for OFWs in Qatar and the GCC.

Down the street from Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art in a tightly knit souq (commercial quarter) jammed with cars and pedestrians tangled in the city’s growing congestion, a string of businesses serving Asian comforts usher in Filipinos with familiar foodstuffs and fast food restaurants redolent of faraway Boracay.

There are an estimated 200,000 Filipinos working in Qatar, according to the Philippine Embassy, or roughly 10 per cent of the country’s entire population. The second largest group of foreign workers in Qatar after Indians, Filipinos commonly find jobs as construction workers, domestic helpers or in the hospitality and tourism industry.

However, this slice of the Southeast Asian diaspora is more frequently finding paths into sales and management positions as family-supported communities grow and descendents of migrants form second generations on the thumb-shaped peninsula.

“Filipinos are now working in higher level positions such as engineers, managers and others,” Sitti Berkis Hamja, Banquet Sales Executive under the General Manager at Ezdan Hotel and Suites, told Inside Investor.

“The fastest growing positions [for Filipinos] are nurses, secretaries, front desk workers/receptionists and engineers,” she added.

The Philippines’ significant contribution to Qatar’s work force led the ministry of labour to reserve 121,924 work permits for “exclusively for Filipinos” in 2009. Some 65 per cent of construction workers being hired to build the New Doha International Airport, located five kilometers east of the current airport, hail from the Philippines.

Yet while cultural concessions have been made, with the emir of Qatar allowing five church denominations to open up in 2008, the estimated 2 million Filipinos working overseas in the Middle East (mostly in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, followed by Qatar) confront wage discrimination and unfair working conditions.

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