Monday, November 13, 2006

Emirates building boom depends on abused work force, Human Rights Watch says :: AP

This Associated Press report has been picked up by local papers across America. An extract:

The Emirates, the watchdog said, "has abdicated almost entirely from its responsibility to protect workers' rights."

The men earn as little as $135 (€105) per month in a country where the average wage is $2,100 (€1,600), Human Rights Watch says. The workers often toil for two or three years to pay off debts to unscrupulous labor recruiters, said the report, titled Building Towers, Cheating Workers.

"There's no reason for a global economic powerhouse like the U.A.E. to tolerate abusive and exploitative labor practices," said Human Rights Watch researcher Hadi Ghaemi. "None of this construction would be possible without these imported workers."

Labor Minister Ali Al Kaabi said the Emirates is beefing up its enforcement of already strict laws on labor rights and human trafficking. Al Kaabi acknowledged there are just 80 labor inspectors — too few to keep companies in line.

"Our laws are tougher than anyone else's in the Mideast," Al Kaabi said. "But the lack of inspectors means sometimes we don't see these problems."

The human rights report, released Sunday in a press conference at a Dubai hotel, comes days after Dubai leader Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum issued a sweeping program of labor reform that appeared timed to undercut the watchdog group's findings.

And on Saturday the country's ruler, Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, announced tough penalties, up to life imprisonment, against trafficking in humans, which has illegally brought domestic servants, prostitutes and even child camel race jockeys into the country.

Now, Sheik Mohammed has ordered the creation of an inspection directorate and a system of labor courts. He also requires companies to provide health insurance for all foreign workers and allow them to change jobs more easily.

Sometime next year, Al Kaabi said a new force of 2,000 inspectors will police this country's building sites and desert labor camps, home to hundreds of thousands of migrant workmen from South Asia.

"We're in the spotlight because of Dubai's development," Al Kaabi said. "Success means you get a lot of criticism."

The Emirates, like other Gulf countries, relies on foreign labor for private sector jobs. Labor conditions are similar in nearby Kuwait and Qatar; worse in Saudi Arabia and slightly better in Oman and Bahrain, Ghaemi said.

While the reforms may cut abuses, they won't do anything to raise salaries, which Al Kaabi said were set by "the market" in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan where wages are a tiny fraction of those in the wealthy Gulf.

Gulf developers use a clever tactic of "in-sourcing" laborers on three-year contracts, hiring men in South Asia on salaries that appear reasonable in their home countries. In many cases, the men go into debt to pay their own airfare and visa costs, even though Emirates law says companies must pay these fees. Workers wind up toiling a year or two just to pay off their loans, the rights group found.
At present there are at least 156 papers worldwide that have used this AP story on the HRW report. But perhaps someone thinks that we soon forget what we read in newspapers.

The UAE authorities made the same promise in January of this year to increase the number of inspectors from 80.

And in 2003 Gulf News quoted Dr Khalid Al Khazraji, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Labour:
To draw a clear picture of our labour inspection capabilities in the country, I would like to mention here that the ministry has nearly 80 inspectors to monitor more than 2.5 million labourers working in nearly 230,000 companies and business organisations operating in the emirates. With such a small number of inspectors we cannot play a proactive role in the market.

In 2002, the ministry recruited 60 inspectors. This year we are in the process of hiring 30 inspectors. Our target for the coming three years is to reach 480 labour inspectors.
I didn't go back further in the google wayback machine.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Our laws are tougher than anyone else's in the Mideast," Al Kaabi said. "But the lack of inspectors means sometimes we don't see these problems."

I recommend asking nationals to work for such wages. In other middle-east nations, you'll see nationals working side-by-side with laborers. When this happens regulation is unnecessary - because decency is more powerful than regulation.

What the UAE needs is decency -- not regulation.

8:30 AM  

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