x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Ministry poll finds labourers satisfied

A survey finds that workers less worried about housing conditions than about pay levels and 'dishonest' recruiting agents.

A worker sweeps the floor in the Arabtec labour camp in Jebel Ali, Dubai.
A worker sweeps the floor in the Arabtec labour camp in Jebel Ali, Dubai.

ABU DHABI // Most construction workers are satisfied with their jobs but many feel they were recruited dishonestly and that wages and food allowances are too low, according to a poll commissioned by the Ministry of Labour. Of the 752 construction workers interviewed by Zogby International in select camps, 69 per cent expressed satisfaction with their jobs and 88 per cent had a favourable opinion of the UAE. But opinions on the recruitment process and pay were less favourable.

The ministry had released the preliminary results of the survey last month, but yesterday's release offered a significantly deeper look into labourers' perceptions. "Workers displayed a greater degree of satisfaction than some may have assumed," the survey's authors said. "It may be that just having a job and being able to send money home to their families while living in conditions that are seen as acceptable, given their circumstances, are enough."

Respondents in Dubai were generally more positive than those in Abu Dhabi - 77 per cent of Dubai workers were satisfied with their jobs, compared with 60 per cent in Abu Dhabi. "None of this should be seen to excuse the failure to address the problems that do come through in this survey - the low level of wages and food allowances, the poor grades given to the recruitment process," the report said.

Labour conditions in the UAE have long been a controversial issue, and the ministry has instituted a series of reforms to improve living conditions and ensure workers' wages are paid on time. But human rights have especially criticised the prevalence of employee-paid recruitment fees. Earlier this year Arabtec promised to move workers out of its Nad al Sheba camp in Dubai within months after a BBC documentary asserted that the camp's 6,000 labourers lived in poor conditions lacking basic sanitation, with raw sewage flowing through the site.

About 2,000 workers have already been moved, according to Lakshmi Montgomery, the company's accommodation and welfare officer. and another 1,500 should be moved over the next three weeks. Yet Zogby found housing less of a concern to labourers than other issues. Half of those surveyed gave a positive rating to housing conditions, 38 per cent were neutral and 12 per cent deeming them "poor". Bigger issues were pay and recruitment. According to the ministry survey, nine out of 10 workers said they had to pay recruiting agents to secure work. More than half described the sums involved as "high", while two out of five rated their recruiters as "dishonest".

The Government has said it will try to tackle the problem of unscrupulous overseas agents, and several property developers have begun recruiting labourers directly to avoid the problem. Some employment agencies demand hefty upfront fees, assuring workers they will be able to repay them from wages. On arrival, the salaries turn out to be lower than promised, making it difficult to meet the payments.

Workers also said that they would like to see pay improved, with 71 per cent giving "poor" ratings to wages and half poorly grading food allowances. Only two per cent said their total family income meant they were able to save money. "When asked to note the most important issues needing improvement, overwhelmingly our respondents point to wages and food allowances," the survey report said. "Housing conditions, health services, timelines of payments and safety on the job received only scant mention." Comparing the two emirates, Abu Dhabi received more positive ratings for wages and prompt payments, whereas Dubai did better in areas such as safety, health services and housing conditions.

lmorris@thenational.ae