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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 18 August 2018

Compassion is needed for society’s hardest workers

Employers have the biggest opportunity to support those workers on lower incomes

Sondos Al Qattan prompted a backlash with her comments on social media. Sondos Al Qattan / Instagram
Sondos Al Qattan prompted a backlash with her comments on social media. Sondos Al Qattan / Instagram

The most heartening thing about Sondos Alqattan’s outburst decrying the need for domestic workers to have one day off per week has been the public outcry following her comments.

When the Kuwaiti make-up artist sulked on her blog about changes in the law protecting the right of Filipino domestic workers to keep their passports and have a day off, the backlash was immediate. “Workers should be treated with dignity,” wrote one objector on social media. “Shame on you for thinking you are better than other people just because you have money,” wrote another.

The change in law – prompted by the murder of a 29-year-old domestic worker in Kuwait, whose body was found stuffed in a freezer – goes some way to redress the imbalances in the kafala, or sponsorship, system prevalent across the Middle East, but more can always be done.

Last week The National reported on defective air-conditioning in bus shelters leaving passengers in Abu Dhabi sweltering in unbearable heat.

It is largely low-paid workers who use public transport in the UAE; their suffering without shade or respite in the hot summer months is both unnecessary and inhumane.

The government’s transport department is advertising for companies to build and maintain cooled shelters and urgent action is needed.

Meanwhile some labourers working on construction sites have appealed for an extension of the mandatory midday break.

The 12.30pm to 3pm reprieve, which runs from June to September, can be insufficient at the peak of the 45C heat. Several food delivery drivers have already been treated for heatstroke.

It falls upon employers to act responsibly and with compassion where workers are exposed to excessive heat while officials must carry out regular and thorough checks to penalise offenders.

Labourers and domestic workers build and maintain the towers which enable us to enjoy the luxuries a life in affluent cities affords. The least we can do in return is look out for their best interests.

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