Riding out the recession in the Middle East
“The opportunity to work on these projects means staff gain considerable experience at the cutting edge, and are typically given more responsibility than they would be in more established regions.”
Cold, hard cash
The tax-free salaries are no doubt the biggest incentive for Irish workers. A survey carried out this year by UK recruitment agency MacDonald and Company found that expat entry-level engineers earned an average of €63,000 in the GCC countries, rising to €95,000 for engineers at management level. Wages for construction managers, project managers and architects were at least 20 per cent higher.
Employers typically provide housing or an accommodation allowance as part of the remuneration package, as well as health insurance and a return flight home every year. Bills are minimal as the cost of electricity and gas is much lower than in Ireland; petrol prices hover around €0.38 per litre in the UAE.
The Middle East is at a global crossroads in terms of travel. Emirates and Etihad now operate 17 direct flights a week between Dublin and the UAE.
Irish societies have sprung up in Riyadh, Doha, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Kuwait over the past six years, organising cultural and networking events for the community and providing vital support for arrivals. GAA clubs are also enjoying a boost in numbers, with more than 50 teams competing in the Gulf Gaelic Games earlier this year.
Bríd Tierney of the Abu Dhabi Irish society says the majority of Irish people go to the Middle East with the intention of staying just a year or two but end up staying much longer. Tierney came to the UAE on a year-long career break from teaching in 2004, and “accidentally” ended up staying. “My husband and I would love to move home to Ireland, where family has come to mean so much since we’ve lived abroad, but it just isn’t a viable option,” she says. “The pros to living and working here for skilled Irish really comes down to the financial gains, the one thing Ireland is unable to offer at the moment. Weather and lifestyle are added bonuses.”
After three months in Doha, the Healys are beginning to settle after the initial culture shock. Gerry says they have been made to feel “wonderfully welcome” by a very supportive Irish community, and his work so far has been challenging and enjoyable. “I am responsible for overseeing the design of roads and drainage in an area the size of Blanchardstown and Lucan, and we are also putting together a bid for a new expressway, which is huge. As an engineer I am like a kid in a sweetshop,” he says.
“There seem to be two types of expats out here: those who hate it and are here just for the money; and those who love it. You have to embrace it, get to know people and make the most of your time here, which is what we intend to do.”
Clair Milner: 'We consider ourselves lucky to be here'
“Myself and my husband Colm were both working in the construction industry when I was made redundant at the end of 2008. Through 2009 and into 2010, the construction industry slowed down dramatically. It was a very uncertain time, not knowing what lay ahead for us.
“Colm, who works as a quantity surveyor with an Irish construction company, was offered an opportunity in Riyadh in 2010. He travelled back and forth for seven months until we came out here to live with our two daughters, Aisling (now 8) and Aoife (6) in January last year.