Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Sher Value: Labor Issues

Over the past week Al Jazeera International has being running a program on the issues of migrant labor and while investigative and issue provoking the recommendations are more implied than clearly stated. Indeed for the GCC countries issues of migrant labor are becoming important and this is an issue that the media, especially in the West seem to be catching on to. This does not suggest that all matters related to labor are fine, but in my opinion, if you are to discuss an issue the please also recommend what can be done to improve things.

I do feel that labor conditions will be a major issue within the realm of the media and various interested parties in the next few months. On the back of this attention there are some who are not making distinction between state sponsored exploitation of migrant workers and the breaking of laws by private companies. I do believe that GCC countries are concerned about labor issues and I know from being here in UAE that this is a matter of concern to the government. Over the years a number of measures have been taken to improve the situation and I understand that in the coming months the scrutiny on labor camps will become more focused.

However, a large number of the abuses start before the migrant worker has even arrived here. Many workers will tell you of the huge amounts of money they pay agents in their home countries prior to them even getting on the plane. In many cases, if not all, the agents are charging the worker for services, i.e. health checks, tickets, approvals and the visa cost, for which the employer in the GCC country has already paid the agent.

Thus the worker arrives into the country to work with a huge debt burden on his head, at times equal to a full years wages. This is perhaps the most pressing stress on his mind and results not only in depression but in many cases an acceptance of some harsh conditions knowing that he has not other option. There are a number of measures that need to be taken by all countries to fix these issues. Here are some of my recommendations:

Create an intra-governmental NGO comprising of GCC countries and countries from where the major work force comes. This NGO will be empowered with bringing about changes in laws on both sides that will help the workers.
Impose punitive fines and punishment on employers and agents who violate the laws, and this should be transparent and without exception.
Enact minimum wage legislation immediately.
Create a special insurance and pension fund for workers to which governments and employers will contribute, with the aim that when the workers retire they have a meaningful financial investment.
Improve the living conditions for workers and make it mandatory for companies to bring care for their workers.

It is important that these measures are enacted immediately and done so in a fully transparent manner. The problem is that the intent of the government is there it just needs to be given more teeth.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Sher Value: Bringing Meaning into the company

As I am planning to join the ranks of motivational speakers I am doing a fair bit if research and some interesting pieces of information are, ofcourse, popping up. However, the more I am digging into the heart of corporate culture and as a consequence, the nature of humans in management I believe some startling revelations surface.

In the first place examining 15 corporate mission statements for companies in the region I was shocked at the way each has used words that either they don’t understand, or words they preached but never really implement. Superlatives such as ‘excellence’ ‘quality’ ‘care’ and others are dropped with such continuity that it is almost as if the proponents of those words in the vision statements of companies want to believe them also.

When one observes the business leaders of these companies with such super vision companies sooner or later, usually before the 15th minute, they have either contradicted themselves or, more commonly, contradicted the very vision statement that they have so eagerly professed on glossy 300 gram paper. In a few cases if one were to refer to the vision statement of the same company as the business leader of the company and without telling him or her you quote from their own vision it is more likely that the business person will not have picked up you were referring to their, not your, vision statement.

Why does this happen?

A variety of reasons but principally a great deal of them believe in the management hype but not the content of the message. In a great number of cases the vision statement was either drafted by a wordsmith from a public relations company or by the coterie around the business leader without the rank and file of the company being involved. In some disastrous cases the by lines of the corporate brand were developed by a marketing and branding company who really have done nothing other than play with words.

The ethos of a company has to be reflected into the communication strategy and not that first the brand tag lines are ‘invented’ and then ‘owned’ by the company. Great companies learn to deliver what they promise, and deliver day in and day out without exception. Companies like Jetblue airways, the low fare airline that created a buzz, have a work ethic that seeps from the top down which shows the care they put in. David Neeleman, the founder and Chairman of JetBlue Airways flies each week on the airline so he can speak to the customers and he lead question is ‘what can we do to improve things?’

More importantly the company operations team each month will deconstruct each delay and examine the reasons for it and what could have been done for the passenger to improve things. The airline has the second best punctuality record of the airlines in the US. The policy on arrival is that within 20 minutes the baggage should be in the hand of the passenger. ‘Give him a 45 minute wait after a one hour flight and that is the last thing he will remember.’ Neeleman knows most of his employees by their first name and drives himself, no fancy cars and a drummed down lifestyle.

Lets learn.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Sher Value: Escrow Law: adeeper look.

Last week I have established in my mind, unequivocally, that the new law on escrow accounts is indeed in the best interests of the buyer and the market conditions for sure. There are a few refinements to the law, which can be handled through procedures that need to be considered and this is a practical way to see a good law being implemented.

Under the proposed law payments will be certified by the consultants and then the accountants and finally approved by the Land Department. The edict is that the Land Department will approve the payment within 7 days, however, there is no provision in the law to cover the delays. Under current FIDIC procedures, which govern contracts, the employer has 56 days from the day the contractor submits the bill to pay the contractor. In the event that there are delays in this the contractor has the right to claim. These 56 days were determined based upon the time it takes to verify the works, and the documentation of the billing, and hence there never was a chance that a third party (i.e. the Land Department) will check and approve the payment. This means that any delays by the Land Department could most certainly result in a payment delay claim from the contractor. How is this resolved?

Another more crucial element is when there is a dispute between the contractor and the client, then the position of the escrow account and the procedure actually complicate the matter even more. How does then the payment situation resolve itself as under the law as passed there is no provision for the payments to be suspended in such an event.

Interestingly, the banks who are to be the recipients of the escrow funds have suddenly jumped on the issue and some have said that they will have to charge to maintain the escrow account. From what I see in the law the banks have nothing to do in terms of verifying the payments or making any undertaking for the payments. I heard a few developers tell me that banks have suggested a 2% fee for maintaining escrow funds! I think this is totally shameless as banks are not required to do anything extraordinary under the law and I do not see why they should suddenly becomes scalpers in this situation. Indeed I would argue that banks are already holding sale funds that they receive so I do not see any difference on their lives.

One aspect of the law needs to be tightened up is the fiduciary responsibilities of the escrow agents as this is where comfort will be driven into the system. I also feel if escrow agents are specialized accounting and legal firms, as is the case in say the US, then indeed the need for the Land Department to confirm payments does not arise. I am sure these aspects are being looked at and the law will be further refined in its operation.