Measures to Increase Employment of Nationals in Expatriate Dominated Occupations and promote decent work among all workers

The high dependence on foreign labour makes employment and migration two interdependent issues requiring a coordinated strategy. On the one hand, nearly half of the employed are foreigners , and not only they play a predominant role in low skilled occupations, but are numerous also among professionals and technicians. On the other hand, despite the buoyant economic growth that allowed the Maldives to reach the status of a middle-income country in 2011 , the labour market has been increasingly characterised by unemployment and discouragement.

Many of the jobs created in the past ten years were not attractive to nationals, being predominantly low skilled, poorly paid and protected. The creation of jobs that are filled in by foreigners will continue for the foreseeable future. The case of Maldives appears therefore similar, from an economic point of view, to that of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. The review of the quota system will have to be done hand in hand with the Jobs Strategy, focusing on medium- and high-skilled jobs that are attractive to nationals.

The low presence of Maldivians in higher-end occupations can be explained by several factors. First, as well documented in the existing literature, the weaknesses of the education and labour market training system play a critical role. The creation of jobs in high standard tourism activities since the 1990s required certain skills that were not available among nationals. TVET system did not effectively adapt and employers found it more convenient to recruit labour from outside the country.

However, there are other demand-driven factors that should be considered. First, employers argue that Maldivians, especially young workers who can afford to live on parental income, have very high job expectations and are reluctant to take up what are perceived as low status jobs. Second, Maldivians do not face a level playing field, as they have to compete against a supply of expatriate workers willing to accept the same jobs at discount prices (wages well below labour productivity) and characterized by working conditions that nationals are not willing to accept.