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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 13 November 2018

Crackdown on unscrupulous employers

The least skilled workers deserve protection from those who profit from exploiting them
Labourers play ping pong at the Saadiyat Accommodation Village in Abu Dhabi. Christopher Pike / The National
Labourers play ping pong at the Saadiyat Accommodation Village in Abu Dhabi. Christopher Pike / The National

Booming economies have always attracted people from less prosperous places, with workers choosing to leave the comforts and security of home in search of potentially life-transforming incomes. And just as workers have always flocked to such places, there have also always been a minority of unscrupulous people seeking to take a share of that money by exploiting them.

This dynamic is almost as old as civilisation, but that does not mean it ought to be tolerated. As The National has been reporting this week, this country takes seriously its obligations towards the welfare of its expatriate workforce and especially those on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder. The labour camps on Saadiyat Island, for example, are an exemplar of their kind.

However we also recognise there remains work to be done. The problem now is not so much the major construction companies, which have improved their standards markedly, but among subcontracting companies, some of which are tempted to ignore regulations regarding the treatment of workers to maximise their profits.

With many of the lower-paid labourers having meagre levels of education and too often being accustomed to discrimination in their countries of origin, they are easy prey for dishonest and deceitful operators. Such is the reliance of families on their earnings, the workers often feel unable or unwilling to complain, even though the Ministry of Labour has put considerable effort into making it easy to lodge a complaint about mistreatment. This needs to be addressed.

Some factors are beyond the UAE’s ability to influence, such as overseas recruitment agents, demanding exorbitant commissions from workers desperate to come to the UAE and the earning potential available here. But factors such as substandard accommodation and oppressive working conditions are within this country’s ability to influence and we are committed to doing so.

The underacknowledged aspect of the expatriate workforce is the transformative effect of their remittances. Although the sums may seem trivial by the standards of the developed world, they are sufficient to pay for an education for their children, often making the difference that allows them to break out of the cycle of poverty. It’s little wonder workers are willing to give up so much for that.