Monday, May 08, 2006

A three-way street

A committee has prepared a memorandum for submission to the Cabinet to deal with labour protests, the lead story in today's Gulf News tells us.

It reports that Labour Minister Dr Ali Bin Abdullah Al Ka'abi said the memorandum recommended that workers who protest 'on flimsy grounds' will be taken to court. That apparently means protest without a genuine legal grievance, "with no right", or if they damaged property. He also called on companies to pay all workers delayed wages within 30 days, but did not specify what action will be taken against companies that do not, the report says.

But labour protests are only part of the problem, which has moral and commercial faces. There is the morality of how workers are treated and there is the purely commercial consideration of Dubai's reputation as a place to invest, to do business, to set up a business.

This whole industrial relations area is a three way street, it's not only about workers protesting. Why they are protesting needs equal scrutiny.

A large part of the problem is agents who con the labourers, who bring them here under false pretences, who lie about the job, the wage, the working & living conditions, who make promises that simply aren't going to be met. They need to be taken out of the picture. If what's delivered isn't what was expected there's bound to be unrest and we're seeing that now. There are discussions on this subject going on between the UAE and Indian governments apparently, which is very good news.

An equally serious contributing factor is companies not paying wages on time. That is completely unacceptable and there should be zero tolerancy. If wages are one week late, immediate action needs to be taken, not 'negotiations' and 'discussions' that go on for months while the workforce is left to survive on handouts. If the company doesn't have the money it should go into bankrupcy, and there needs to be a central insurance fund to cover workers' entitlements in such cases. (Another aspect of this is cover for investors whose money has disappeared, as with Ayoubco and The Lighthouse development in Dubai Marina. Dubai is getting very bad press over that - but that's a topic for another day).
If the company has the money but is simply delaying payment of wages it should be compelled to pay immediately in full and fined an appropriate amount.

If those problems can be overcome, protests are much more unlikely and the necessity to get the legal system involved diminishes.

It's not only fair that equal emphasis is put on all the factors contributing to the problem, it also makes good commercial sense.

Incidentally, if there are protests and workers damage property, they should be charged as anyone else would be, but that's a different thing.

1 comment:

ExpatBrat said...

What amazes me is that companies seem to be making no real effort to sort out these problems. I've been in the middle east a long time now and Dubai is in the media abroad more and more. However now in a good way. In a UN survey on modern day slavery Dubai and Sharjah were 2 of the top three offenders. Surely these big companies not to mention the government must realise that this isn't good for business of the tourism industry and they would do well to start treating people with humanity and decency in order to progress to the "western ideal" they seem to be aiming for. There are problems in the west, I'm not denying that, but at least there is a way for people to protest against unfairness and the press are even allowed to publish the facts!