Saudi, UAE offer Pakistan access to their labor market databases

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Overseas Pakistan and Human Resource Development, Syed Zulifqar Abbas Bukhari Speaking at the Fifth Ministerial Consultation of Abu Dhabi Dialogue on regional migration and HRD on October 17, 2019. (Courtesy Zulfi Bukhari's Facebook)
Updated 19 October 2019

Saudi, UAE offer Pakistan access to their labor market databases

  • The move is aimed to boost the export of the Pakistani workforce to the two Gulf countries
  • The initiative will reduce fraud and exploitation of workers by middle-men

ISLAMABAD: Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have offered to open up their digital labor databases to Pakistan to boost the export of labor from Pakistan to both Gulf countries, Syed Zulifqar Abbas Bukhari, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Overseas Pakistan and Human Resource Development, told Arab News from Dubai.
The offer was extended by UAE Minister of Human Resources and Emiratization (MOHRE), Nasser Bin Thani Al Hameli, during a meeting with Bukhari on the sidelines of the 5th ministerial session of Abu Dubai Dialogue held in Dubai last week.
“UAE offered linkage to its ‘virtual labor market database’, and Saudi Arabia has also extended an offer to Pakistan to send domestic workers to the Kingdom through new identity of the electronic home labor program, ‘Musaned,’” Bukhari said and added that the process would be complete in the next three months.
“Pakistan welcomed this, as this would help us in reducing unemployed Pakistanis in both the countries,” he said.
The initiative looks to provide Pakistan with up-to-date information about job opportunities in the labor market in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and gives valuable information regarding demand for different skills overseas.
Bukhari said the Saudi database also included new and other services developed to preserve the rights of the employer and the worker.
“Pakistan has agreed to connect this with its own digital portal,” he added.
Over 2.7 million Pakistanis live in Saudi Arabia and remit nearly $6 billion home every year. Additionally,1.6 million Pakistanis live in the UAE and are the second largest national group there, constituting 12.5% of the country’s total population.
“Pakistan wants to integrate its digital platform with UAE MOHRE to minimize the cost of recruitment and to make it fair, efficient, transparent, as Pakistan is digitally ready for this collaboration,” Bukhari said.
General Secretary of Pakistan Workers Foundation, Zahoor Awan, welcomed the move, saying it would result in “direct access” between workers and employers.
“Digitalization will help workers find jobs as employers will have direct access to them,” Awan told Arab News, and said the database would reduce the exploitation of workers by middle-men.
“The agents used to loot workers through tall claims about jobs in UAE but this step will lessen their troubles. The technology will provide digital information to employers about their availability and skills. They will contact them directly which will reduce fraud and exploitation,” he said.


Pakistan’s polio teams now fight along new frontier: COVID-19

Updated 4 min 14 sec ago

Pakistan’s polio teams now fight along new frontier: COVID-19

  • In absence of protective equipment, health care workers in northwestern province fear for safety
  • This year, 49 cases of poliovirus detected in Pakistan but large scale immunization facilities have been diverted

Kaleemullah Khan, a health care worker in Pakistan’s northwestern city of Peshawar, has spent the last week in fear. Every morning, he checks his temperature for fever and then monitors himself for signs of the flu.

The 37-year-old’s paranoia is not unfounded. A day before Eid holidays, Khan had to check up on a man in his area who had tested positive for the deadly coronavirus. 
“He had all the symptoms of the virus,” the health care worker told Arab News. “Symptoms can take up to 14 days to appear in an infected person. So I am very scared. Seven more days till I am safe.”

Kaleemullah Khan, a healthcare worker in  Pakistan’s northern city of Peshawar, marks shops and mosques in his area to ensure people follow social distancing rules on May 30, 2020. (Photo courtesy: Kaleemullah Khan)

For Khan, being on the front lines of fighting a major health care emergency is nothing new. For eight years, he has been working for the government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province to eradicate the wild poliovirus.

But this new disease it different. It is more intimidating.

“For polio, we would go to people’s homes to talk to them, give drops, organize seminars in small rooms,” Khan said. “We did all this without fear because we knew we would not get the virus.”
“Now you just don’t know.”

Kaleemullah Khan, a healthcare worker in  Pakistan’s northern city of Peshawar, marks shops and mosques in his area to ensure people follow social distancing rules on May 30, 2020. (Photo courtesy: Kaleemullah Khan)

Khan lives with his wife, two small daughters and his old parents. He says he is always worried about bringing the virus home.

Till March 22, the father of two was preforming his routine duties of administering anti-polio drops to young children. Then suddenly the polio program was put on hold and Khan and other health care workers were reassigned to fight a new virus– COVID-19.

Since polio is still endemic in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the only two countries in the world where the disease has not been eliminated, the national polio program had footprints in even smaller administrative units of the country. That is why state officials turned to the polio staff to help track down coronavirus carriers.

Khan’s job now entails tracing people who have arrived in the province from other countries, checking them for symptoms, spreading awareness about safety protocols and reporting on those who violate the government’s lockdown rules. 

Kaleemullah Khan, a healthcare worker in  Pakistan’s northern city of Peshawar, marks shops and mosques in his area to ensure people follow social distancing rules on May 30, 2020. (Photo courtesy: Kaleemullah Khan)

He completes his daily 12-hour shift with only a face mask, gloves and a hand sanitizer to protect him.

“People in our culture, they always want to hug or shake hands to greet you,” he says, “It difficult to maintain a distance here.”

In March, the government prepared national guidelines on COVID-19 and PPEs (personal protection equipment) for the rational utilization of hazmat suits.

Those conducting “in-person interviews” of suspected or confirmed patients and their contacts, the document outlines, will be given an N95 mask, a gown, gloves and eye protection.

But KP’s polio staff members are making do with much less.
Muzdalifa Ilyas, a polio staff member in Peshawar, only covers herself with an abaya, wears a pair of gloves and a face mask while moving through neighborhoods. “That is what our getup looks like,” she told Arab News.
 “We don’t have PPE gowns. But we do have sanitizers which we use regularly.”

Muzdalifa Ilyas, a polio staff member in Peshawar, now works to fight coronavirus in the region on May 30, 2020. (Photo courtesy: Muzdalifa Ilyas)

For Ilyas and her colleagues, the bulk of their work includes reporting violators to the district administration in the province- shopkeepers, business owners and mosque staff who are not following the government’s standard operating procedures (SOPS) which were put in place in May when the Prime Minister allowed more business and industrial sectors to open. 

Rizwana Dar Khan Wazir, the assistant commissioner in Peshawar, has so far fined 400-500 violators and collected Rs 800,000 in fines. 
“We fine 30-40 people daily,” she told Arab News over the phone. 

Although health care workers like Ilyas and Khan are now deployed full time to combat the coronavirus, they are still required to track and report cases of polio virus in the country. “We are doing both things simultaneously,” Khan said. “If there is a new case of paralysis in a child we have to report it.”

This year, 49 cases of wild poliovirus type 1 have been recorded in Pakistan, according to Dr. Rana Muhammad Safdar, the National Coordinator for Polio Eradication in Pakistan.

Safdar told Arab News that since the “country’s fragile health system was seriously challenged” with the outbreak of the coronavirus, the polio program had to be put on hold and all its facilities diverted.

Now, the field staff, he explained, helps in tracing potential high risk international travelers and their contacts, while the religious clerics they had on board for their polio program are promoting social distancing in mosques.

Separately, Safdar and his team are also compiling data of the coronavirus for the ministry of health and using social media to bust myths about the disease.

In a recent meeting of the national polio management team, he revealed, it was decided to resume supplementary immunization campaigns for polio in July till routine and mass campaigns can be restarted. The supplementary campaign will administer the oral polio vaccine in areas where cases have been detected recently, while also following government-mandated safety protocols for the coronavirus.

By the end of the year, three nationwide polio campaigns will be launched back-to-back to make up for missed time. 

“Personally, I feel sad that our efforts of pushing polio virus back had to be halted just as we were gaining momentum,” Dr. Safdar said. “But I am glad that our program was able to build a robust surveillance system for COVID-19 which is helping in the quick detection, isolation and contact tracing of patients in every corner of Pakistan.”

With additional reporting by Benazir Shah