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.