Friday, July 01, 2005

Ministry of Labour mulls privatisation of inspections :: GN
The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs is planning to privatise its labour inspection department, which is expected to be given to the local municipalities in each emirate, a source from the ministry said. . . . He said that the ministry has nearly 100 inspectors to monitor more than 2.5 million labourers working in nearly 250,000 companies and business organisations in the emirates. “With such a small number of inspectors we cannot play a proactive role in the market.” He said with the new plan it is expected that the inspector will have the right to issue a ticket if [the inspector] sees something wrong taking place at a workplace. This did not exist before and had weakened the power and the authority of inspectors.
How will privatizing labor inspections, and shifting the oversight of inspection to the local level result in a more labor inspections? Labor inspections has been limited by lack of resources and limits on the authority delegated to inspectors. Both of these limitations could be addressed without changing to a privatized system. The UAE clearly has the financial resources to commit to inspection if it chooses to do so, and delegation of authority is a matter of choice and commitment to backing up the inspectors.

Many government services can be privatized, and labor inspections is one of those areas. What are the advantages of privatization per se? And what kind of privatization is envisioned? What will the government's contract with private inspection companies look like?; how will the companies be rewarded? Privatization is often a means for a government to get around its inability to discipline its employees, or as a way to employ workers at lower pay and benefits than would be possible if the workers were government employees. Privatization is sometimes also a way for government to get around a self-imposed hiring freeze; in this case, privatization is merely a way to beat the freeze by outsourcing the jobs.

Why not look at the need to expand labor inspections as an opportunity to create more jobs for Emiratis, the kinds of jobs with pay, benefits and working conditions that Emiratis are demanding as a condition for accepting work?

Seasonality of inspections is another angle. As has been reported in the press in several stories the past few days, the government has (again) expressed its intention to enforce a ban on outdoor work during the hottest hours of the day. A private firm may be able to design inspection jobs with greater flexibility. Note, too, that enforcing rules against working in the heat requires inspectors willing to visit job sites at the hottest hours of the day.

Larry of Salt Spring sends this BBC report on UAE labor inspections. A ban on working in the heat means little when the means of enforcement is virtually nil.

UPDATE (7Days):
Suleiman Abdullah Abu Dawood, director of the Labour Inspection Department, says he needs many more to cope with more than 400,000 companies in the UAE. “We have not yet assessed how many inspectors we need but the number we need is big,” he said. His department requested that more inspectors be recruited months ago, he said, but instead he’s been left with even fewer as some ministry staff have resigned over limits imposed by the new Minster of Labour and Social Affairs on how many companies they are allowed to sponsor. Between seven and ten inspectors have quit in the last few months, he said.

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