Sunday, May 21, 2006

Start at the beginning.

To begin to solve a problem you must start at the beginning. And, fingers crossed, it seems the government may be doing just that.

The starting point of the construction workers' (and others) problem is very often the agency which brings them here under false pretences, making promises about salaries and conditions that simply aren't met. That's a recipe for the unrest that we're seeing increasingly.

Add to that the crippling debt the labourers get into to buy their visa, often borrowing money from the extended family, and they're stuck. It's a stupid call from so many people that if they're not happy they should go back where they came from. They can't.

Gulf News reported:

Labour recruiting agencies may be shut down

By Diaa Hadid, Staff Reporter

Dubai: The Labour Ministry may shut down the labour agencies that recruit construction workers. Many of these agencies pressure workers to take crippling, illegal loans to pay for their own visas.

Dr Ali Bin Abdullah Al Ka'abi, Labour Minister, told reporters that workers' cities will be built to take the place of about 170 labour agencies currently licensed by the ministry.
Construction companies will hire workers from the cities, which will be managed by private companies with government supervision, he said.

"We will close them down," Al Ka'abi said. "Some of the bigger companies may find a role in the new worker cities."

He did not provide further details on when the worker cities will be built, although he suggested that one will soon be announced in Dubai.

A Gulf News investigation in April found dozens of other companies openly engaged in this trade, often exploiting labourers for wages ranging from Dh3 to Dh6 an hour.
Another investigation found most labour agents recruiting workers from South Asia openly charge the men and women they bring to the UAE the cost of their visas.
The practice is illegal under the UAE Labour Law and had forced many workers to take loans of more than Dh7,000, often at high interest rates.
Although the UAE cannot punish companies which pass on visa costs to workers, the problem has been at the root of many labour protests here, and even suicides. Last week, labour officials met Indian government representatives to discuss ways to stop the practice in India, where the bulk of the country's expatriate labour comes from.

Of course the other aspects of the problem have to be solved too - unpaid wages, lack of inspectors to enforce the laws and so on. But unless they first stop the flow through unscrupulous agencies the rest won't mean a thing.

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