Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Improving the labourer's lot

The situation regarding lower paid workers is the subject of discussions in Abu Dhabi, where twenty-two nations representing labour importing and exporting countries are meeting. It's another of those 'catch-up' areas where laws and actions are way behind the times.

In fact the countries involved have been sending or receiving labour for decades so the improvements are long overdue.

A big problem was highlighted and it's one that plagues businesses in all industries in this region - the lack of hard data. It's difficult to formulate policies if you don't have hard facts on the details of the problem.

One particular area that's long needed attention is unscrupulous agents - usually in the supplying country - who in simple terms mislead and rip off the workers. They charge huge amounts and make promises of salaries and conditions that simply don't exist. The worker gets here to find the situation is far different from the promise, but because s/he is in debt to the tune of thousands of dollars can do nothing about it.

One excellent move is that the UAE will establish processing centres in labour sending countries where applicants will be given local knowledge about where they're going, have labour contracts explained and their eligibility for employment confirmed. They'll also receive literature in their local languages.

In Dubai there'll be a follow-up, in that centres will be established this year in the main labour accommodation areas to provide information on labourers' rights and responsibilities . Inspections of labour accommodation will also increase dramatically - another essential development - with some 100 camps to be checked monthly. Last year over a third of the accommodation checked was found to be in bad condition.

So, governments at both ends of the supply chain are finally getting to grips with what all to often often turns out to be a human tragedy.

Off at a tangent

And thinking of health and safety, there's also news from Abu Dhabi about jaywalkers being fined. Nothing wrong with that, far too many pedestrians are being killed each month.

But it does raise the question of exactly what the word 'jaywalking' means here. If it refers to people crossing roads in city centres where there are pedestrian crossings, then I agree with it. With the proviso that motorists are educated that they must stop to allow pedestrians to cross on designated crossings. And draconian punishment if they don't.

That was brought home to me on our recent UK/Europe holiday - after a couple of years back in Dubai I was startled that motorists gave way to pedestrians on crossings, something that I didn't even think about before we came back here. Here it's the norm for the pedestrian to wait for the road to be completely clear before stepping onto the crossing.

But if 'jaywalking' also applies to the poor fools who try to dash across freeways, that's a different story. I know it's crazy and I know they get killed, but just think about it. You're a labourer on one side of Sheikh Zayed Road and you need to get to the other side. How do you get there? There are no crossings. No bridges or underpasses. So what do you do?

Even if you walk kilometres to the nearest interchange, they're for vehicles not pedestrians.

Putting fences down the centre was never the right answer. They still have no way to cross safely so they dash across anyway and climb the fence.

We know that the majority of road deaths are pedestrians, the problem and the solution have been discussed endlessly. In Dubai we had fifty-six pedestrian deaths in the first six months of 2007. The RTA is saying that it will build seventeen pedestrian bridges and that they're planning to spend more than Dh70 million to construct pedestrian crossings.

Huge traffic interchanges are going up, but constructing simple, easy pedestrian bridges seems to be in the too-hard basket. Surely dozens of crossings could have gone up in a matter of weeks.

You'll find the full stories here, here, here, and here.


Grumpy Goat said...

Your comments about the lack of pedestrian crossing facilities are valid ones. At least we see some new facilities, such as on Airport Road near the French Wedding Cake.

What continues to irritate me is when pedestrians swarm across the highway, scaling spiky median fences and dodging high-speed traffic, sometimes when loaded with their shopping... and they do this in the shadow of a footbridge!

Seabee said...

That will never stop, sadly - it's impossible to overcome human stupidity.