Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Sher View: Labor conditions

(the following was posted by me in the G2K forum which is a closed end forum but thought i owuld share it)

I can see the world concern about how workers are being treated in UAE (and Dubai) and its becoming an issue of debate. While at the outset I would say there are a large number of issues concerning this and indeed in a number of labor camps the conditions are deplorable. However, the conclusion that nothing is being done about it by the government is also wrong. I am surprised people who have lived here and been in the region can make sweeping judgments.

I have in my weekly piece for the papers argued that a number of provisions of the labor law need to be changed the most important that would allow workers free movement from job to job without the statutory 6 months ban. ( a provision of the law that is misused alot) and I have also been vocal about bringing in minimum wage regulations. But after 27 years in the region I cannot draw the conclusion that it is a policy of the government to exploit the workers.

The law is very clear on a number of issues and last years inspection of a number of labor camps resulted in fines and even orders to close the camps and make new camps where living conditions are better. There is a government effort I believe to build a massive labor housing colony with all facilities, and the aim will be to close all privately owned labor camps (then the liberals will complain free enterprise is being trodden upon). My guess is that in the next few months companies violating the regulations will be hit hard.

However, I am sure the former Ambassador to the region (this was in response to a comment from a former British ambassador to Kuwait) is aware that a large part of the problem is in the home countries of these workers, where agents, (their kinsmen) charge then exorbitant amounts of money to get them 'selected' for a job in the Gulf. The exploitation is also from the companies who seeking more profits will bring in people at the lowest rate and put them in the worst conditions. I think that the entire chain has to be dealt with and this is what is important.

On a humorous note I am always amused when my Western friends start championing such cases, excellent, considering it took them 150 years to abolish slavery in the US, and for my British friends it was only 61 years back when tea estates owned by British companies in Assam, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and India employed child labor. (by the India has the largest child labor force in the world and NO LAW enacted against it. As of now there are pending actions against a major confectionery company and a tire company for knowingly allowing child labor in the cocoa and rubber plantations respectively (only on April 15, 2007 a one year extension has been given to remedy the situation).

For the record I am from Pakistan and am all for the campaigns against child labor, and also want exploitation of labor to stop, but lets support those who are bringing change and lets be FAIR. (go after the companies who exploit, not against societies who are trying to change it).

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