x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

New labour sources needed to plug gap

Skilled and unskilled labour has quickly become the construction industry's most pressing concern.

Abu Dhabi // Skilled and unskilled labour has quickly become the construction industry's most pressing concern as the economic boom continues. The construction workforce, estimated at more than one million, will need to double in the next five years or the completion of houses, offices and roads will be delayed. According to recruitment firms, the supply of temporary labour from India is waning. This is due to a perception that the cost of living in the country is outstripping salaries and there are more attractive employment opportunities on the subcontinent.

There is also concern that the spread of nationalities in the labour market is too narrow, while Ministry of Labour (MoL) regulations limit the number of visas that companies can issue to the citizens of any one country. These factors have encouraged firms to tap into new sources of skilled construction labour, such as Sri Lanka and Vietnam, and countries providing unskilled workers, including Myanmar and African nations.

Nguyen Quang Khai, the Vietnamese Ambassador to the UAE, said Vietnam was in an ideal position to help the country address its shortage of workers. Mr Khai encouraged construction firms and recruitment agencies seeking to employ Vietnamese people to contact agencies in Vietnam that have been approved by the government. The agencies provided English and Arabic lessons, basic construction work training, cultural awareness of the Middle East and comprehensive contracts, he said.

However, the emergence of unscrupulous recruitment agencies has led to workers taking up overseas work on flimsy contracts, in which they are forced to cover the cost of medical examinations, visas, travel expenses and, in some cases, the recruitment firms' commission fee. "The existence of some illegal agencies is unavoidable, but we try to minimise their impact on the labour supply by strictly regulating the migration of labour from Vietnam and encouraging Gulf employers to deal directly with reputable firms," Mr Khai said.

"According to our regulations, contracts should be signed between a legitimate Vietnamese recruitment agency and a UAE employer and should be approved by the Ministry of Labour." After negotiating the recruitment process, Vietnamese workers must quickly adjust to working life, a tough proposition due to on-site communication difficulties arising from the language barrier and the sharp contrast between the Gulf's arid climate and Vietnam's heavy annual rainfall. Wage demands form another potential barrier, as salary expectations of Vietnamese workers tend to be higher than their South Asian counterparts.

Multinational construction firms based in the UAE pay unskilled workers an average of Dh600 (US$164) a month including food, accommodation and transport. The average wage for skilled civil tradesmen such as masons and carpenters is about Dh750 per month, while highly skilled workers such as electricians can earn up to Dh1,500. rditcham@thenational.ae