x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

A better future for blue collar workers

A Dubai-based nonprofit has given blue collar workers the tools to lift themselves up to the next bracket of financial stability. But labour reforms can¿t rest on the shoulders of volunteers alone.

Sagar Lamichhane is an ambitious man, just like Amit Gurung and Musharaf Seeni Mohammed. All three hail from South Asia, make less than Dh2,000 a month doing hard labour in the UAE, and yearn for a way to climb the more lucrative corporate ladder.

Now, thanks to the efforts of a group of professionals in Dubai, they may have found one.

As we reported yesterday, SmartLife, a Dubai-based nonprofit that provides expatriate labourers with informal training and assistance, has expanded its presence in the Emirates. First launched in India, the UAE offshoot aims to provide low-paid labourers with the skills they need to lift themselves up to the next bracket of financial stability.

Rajalingam Thathaiah, a labourer originally from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, is proof of the programme's success. Once a low-level employee of a Dubai cleaning firm, Mr Thathaiah was recently promoted to an office position, a move he credits to a six-month computer course facilitated by SmartLife.

The point of the SmartLife training programme is to increase interaction between the white collar public and the country's blue collar workforce.

But that doesn't mean they should bear the burden alone. As we have frequently reported on these pages, the list of challenges that labourers in the UAE face is massive; grievances range from withheld passports and unsafe work conditions to contract breaches and unpaid salaries.

The Government has worked to close these gaps. New rules have made it easier for employees to change jobs and put into place rules requiring monthly paycheques be deposited directly into bank accounts. But because enforcement of existing laws is inconsistent, many workers fall through the cracks. Other segments of the foreign workforce, notably domestic help, are almost overlooked entirely. Human rights groups have frequently raised alarm bells, concerns that can't be ignored.

At its website, www.adoptalaborer.com, SmartLife offers a portal to link potential mentors with UAE-based labourers, and a 16-word statement of mission: "They build our homes, offices and venues of pleasure," SmartLife founders observe. "But what do we do for them?"

It's a question one group in Dubai is trying to answer.