BENEFITS & COMPENSATION INTERNATIONAL TOTAL REMUNERATION AND PENSION INVESTMENT

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1 BENEFITS & COMPENSATION INTERNATIONAL TOTAL REMUNERATION AND PENSION INVESTMENT

2 Compensation and Benefits in Iraq Mirna Charaf El Dinne Mirna Charaf El Dinne is a consultant with Hay Group in the Middle East and is responsible for the firm s clients in Iraq. Working with corporate head offices in Dubai and internationally, she is the author of Hay Group s Compensation and Benefits Report for Iraq, which is published annually, and hosts the firm s Iraq HR Forum, which is held quarterly. In addition to working with organizations in Iraq, Ms Charaf is responsible for a number of other emerging markets, including Lebanon and Jordan. She has a degree in Business Management from the American University of Science and Technology in Beirut. Following decades of conflict and stagnation, Iraq s once-thriving economy is emerging again as a new and exciting frontier market, with vast potential for investment and growth that is not limited to the oil and gas sector. Expansion is projected for the transport, construction, manufacturing, financial services, healthcare and education sectors as the nation focuses on a commitment to diversifying industry and creating a sustainable national workforce. Economic growth is being driven and supported by the Iraqi Government, which is taking steps to attract foreign investors into the country and to establish the vital infrastructure needed to sustain business. Training and development of the country s workforce is much needed to keep up with the current business and technological advances, since the scarcity of talent remains a major obstacle for the recruitment of Iraqi nationals. Many educational and training programmes are being introduced to deal with this issue. These programmes are aiming to reduce the very high rate of unemployment among nationals. A large number of companies are now starting up operations and recruiting in Iraq while still maintaining head office functions in nearby countries, such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) or Jordan, which have easy links with Iraq. GETTING TO KNOW IRAQ There are distinct markets within Iraq, with the Kurdistan region located in the north of Iraq developing its oil and gas reserves quickly through the involvement of multinational companies. Further south, the focus is mainly on infrastructure, construction and the privatization of functions that have, in recent years, been under the umbrella of either the United Nations or the Iraqi Government. Within the labour market, nationalization of the workforce (creating employment for Iraqi nationals) is a priority for the Government; the public sector is working hand in hand with private-sector organizations to get Iraqi nationals into the workforce. In addition to the national workforce, there is a large number of seconded expatriate employees who work on a rotational or commuting basis. Naturally, with huge opportunities come challenges common to new markets, such as antiquated labour law, and a lack of clarity on company obligations, such as tax and social security laws. As multinationals move into the market and local companies begin trading, there is a thirst for information on compensation and benefit issues and trends which makes for an interesting story and a demanding job for HR teams. ADDRESSING THE KEY ISSUES Iraq s labour law has not been updated in recent years and is not readily available. Companies are therefore finding it difficult to establish and track their policies. Some documentation surrounding pay and compensation levels is available in Arabic only, which is the first hurdle for the multinational companies that are keen to have a piece of this expanding market. Labour law has specific rules relating to the compensation of employees working in the public sector and for the Government, as follows: These employees should receive a specific set of allowances that are dependent on such factors as the level of education, job level, geographical location, marital status and the number of children. Social security contributions should be paid at the rate of 5% by the employee and 12% by the employer, with the latter increasing to 25% for organizations operating in the oil and gas sector. This contribution goes towards the workers and dependants medical benefits, sickness and maternity, old-age, death and disability, and unemployment benefits. There is still much uncertainty and unclear, sporadic communication involving social security payments as to whether the same rules apply to expatriates who are based in Iraq on a rotator or commuter basis and local expatriate employees. There is also a lack of clarity around exemptions and the registration process. Gradually, things are becoming clearer and companies are hoping that this information will be more readily available in the near future. Another key challenge is personal safety, which remains a major issue for companies operating in Iraq. Precautions need to be taken by companies to support the health and safety of their employees. 1

3 FIGURE 1 Salary Increases versus Inflation Rates in Iraq ( ) % % Salary increase 16 Inflation 14 Percentage increase % 3.5% 2.4% 6.3% 5.6% 9.0% 5.5% (f) Year Source: The Economist Intelligence Unit (for inflation rates) and Hay Group s Compensation and Benefits Report for Iraq (for salary increases), 2012 PAY TRENDS Pay trends between 2008 and 2010 fluctuated dramatically due to a relatively high and unstable inflation rate before Instability was also present due to the fairly new nature of the Iraqi market, as trends and common market practices are still being established among new entrants to the market. Salary increases in stood at an average of 17.5% as organizations struggled to compete with high inflation that had surged to 53.2% in Inflation gradually started to stabilize along with the salary increases that dropped to 12% in and 6.3% in 2011, which was just above inflation. The inflation rate was estimated to be 5.6% in 2011 and is forecast to be 5.5% in The latest salary forecast for companies for 2012 is 9.0% which is 2.5% higher than the forecast given a few months ago. This is common for an emerging market like Iraq where companies are fighting for talent and are willing to use any means to attract and retain the right talent. Pay increases for 2012 are forecast at an average of 6.5%, just ahead of inflation (see FIGURE 1 above). The forecast for Iraq s real GDP * growth rate in 2012 is 10.9% compared with an estimate of 5.5% made in Reports suggest that private investment in the economy is set to triple as energy, agriculture and housing projects accelerate under the leadership of the new Government. The Iraqi planning ministry stated that, as part of its strategic plan, the rate of economic growth will reach 47% by 2014 and per capita income will surge to US$9,000 from the current US$4,000 as a result of a sharp increase in Iraq s oil output and higher market prices for oil. The new per capita income forecast means that Iraqis living standards are expected to more than double in less than four years. The latest estimates by United Nations representatives in Iraq show that the unemployment rate is at a high of 28%. Some of the main reasons for this high level of unemployment are failures of the development programme to address the social aspects of economic growth as well as the diversion of resources to wars and subsequent economic sanctions. THE GOVERNMENT S INFLUENCE The lack of clarity around the labour law is having a heavy impact on the current pay market and packages. Pay packages must be acceptable to the State as well as to employees, so foreign-owned organizations have to work closely with the Government (see TABLE 1 opposite for statutory allowances and benefits). There is also some confusion as to whether joint-venture employees should be paid as per the public- or the private-sector market. Another issue faced by companies is segmenting pay according to the criteria laid down by the Government that include paying bonus based on the education level which removes the focus from pay for performance. Furthermore, when the Government is moving employees from the public sector to the private sector, these candidates have high salary expectations that are not tied to performance. There is an additional challenge in that the skills most in demand are scarce and many roles require competencies that the local market has not experienced before. * gross domestic product 1 = US$1.59; 1 = US$1.31 as at 6 April

4 The tax situation is complex for organizations, as tax is not deducted at source. Organizations are obliged to pay tax to the State and the number of days for which an expatriate employee is in the country determines whether or not he or she is required to pay tax. Tax is between 0% and 15%. Most organizations believe that the time threshold for paying tax in Iraq is 180 days but this has not yet been confirmed by the Government. There are many categories of tax, including pension tax and government tax, and the levels differ depending on the number of employees an organization has. RECRUITMENT The focus of recruitment between 2009 and 2011 has remained on the same functions, with organizations focusing on the recruitment of key jobs for their operations. Sixty-seven per cent of companies are placing a focus on engineering jobs and 50% on finance and accounting; 50% are recruiting for human resources, 42% for information technology and 42% for sales. The number of new entrants to this year s workforce is one of the highest within the Middle East, averaging at 30%, while the percentage of leavers is only around 5%. Companies have many positions to fill. However, the recruitment of nationals in technical positions is a challenge, as the years of turmoil have depressed education levels and Iraqi nationals have been pushed into working for the Government, the public sector and not-for-profit organizations. As this has been their focus for many years, there is a lack of transferable skills for moving into the private sector, such as the oil and gas industry. In order to address the skills gap, there is a government scheme whereby employees from the Government can be seconded to private companies. Such employees can remain with an employer during a training period while still being paid by the Government. Once the national has received sufficient training and development to reach the required skill level for the role, he or she can be employed on a full-time basis. At this stage it is important for employers to make it clear to employees that moving into the private sector will affect their compensation and benefits as they will effectively be cutting all ties with the public sector. Private companies therefore need to make these packages very attractive. Iraqi nationals are very much motivated by career progression over the long term as well as opportunities for training and development. They are interested in working for an organization that will develop their skills. From a compensation perspective, they are most attracted by a package that will support their family as it is commonplace for Iraqi nationals to have a large number of dependants. Overseas training programmes are also an attractive element of total reward but Iraqi nationals face difficulties in obtaining visas to certain countries and much training is therefore conducted within Iraq. There are different categories of employee working in Iraq and their compensation and benefit packages are based on two factors: nationality and location. On one side, there are the locally based employees who are mainly Iraqi nationals who are paid according to Iraqi market conditions and, on the other side, there are expatriate employees who are seconded to Iraq on either a rotating or a commuting basis. Rotators are employees rotating between their base country (usually home country) and Iraq. The pay for the rotators is based on their home country and the typical arrangement for the rotation period is 28 days in, followed by 28 days out. Commuters are employees who typically live as expatriates in the UAE (or other GCC * countries) and regularly commute to Iraq for work. The families of commuters are usually relocated to the country of residence and the commuter s pay package is based on either the home country or the residence country or a combination of the two. These expatriate employees have a different set of rules that guide their pay and benefits. They typically * Gulf Cooperation Council TABLE 1 Allowance/Benefit Annual leave Death benefit Disability benefit Maternity leave Medical benefit Overtime rate Statutory Allowances and Benefits for Iraqi Nationals Coverage 20 days paid leave or 30 days when a person works under hazardous conditions; after five years of service the annual leave is increased by two days for every additional year of service with the same employer months basic salary months basic salary 70 days Social security or private company; family coverage 1.5 times for a normal working day; 2 times for a weekend or public holiday 3

5 receive additional allowances and benefits compared with locals, such as housing allowance, company car and driver, security protection through a private security company or armed security guards, food, and cleaning and laundry services. In addition, such employees are provided with special premiums or a hardship allowance for working in Iraq and tax equalization or tax protection in their home country. MEDICAL BENEFITS Medical benefits are provided by all organizations in Iraq either through social security for nationals or through a private insurance company. This is typically provided for the employee only at junior levels and for the employee and family at managerial levels. Employees normally have a choice of hospital from a restricted list within the country or the company has a special clinic or hospital for treatment of its employees. At the moment, health care is generally poor as the infrastructure is currently being built. For expatriate employees, where medical cover is provided it needs to include repatriation or evacuation from Iraq for treatment. Death and disability is another crucial benefit provided for employees in Iraq and, again, it is covered through either social security or a private company for all employees in the company. Payment of months salary is provided on death and months salary for disability. It is hard for companies to find insurers that will provide sufficient coverage in Iraq and there are typically some exclusions from the coverage. It is a particular challenge to provide this benefit for expatriates travelling on business who have an existing medical insurance policy, as this can become invalid once they enter a war zone. PROMISING OUTLOOK The outlook for Iraq appears promising, as the country is gaining economic and political stability. The growth potential in Iraq is massive and those companies that are able to take advantage of this opportunity now will be the ones with the greatest competitive advantage. The market is still developing and drastic changes and continuous salary increases for the short term are expected as more and more jobs become available in the market. The scarcity of talent will continue to bite, leading to higher pay for talented people with technical skills that will put further upward pressure on salaries. There will be continuing pressure on both organizations and the Government to develop programmes that can respond to this demand and aid Iraq s drive towards a sustainable workforce. Ω Copyright Pension Publications Limited Reproduced from Benefits & Compensation International, Volume 41, Number 9, May Published by Pension Publications Limited, London, England. Tel: Fax: Website: Produced by The PrintZone ( Prior written permission required to reprint in bulk.

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