By Sean Cronin
Construction Week launches its 'Build Respect' campaign in a bid to improve the treatment of the region's migrant construction workers.
Learning to build respect within the construction industry|~|buildRespect_logo200.gif|~||~|This week sees the launch of the Construction Week ‘Build Respect’ campaign. The simple aim is to improve the often desperate treatment of the migrant construction workers who are responsible for ‘building the dream’ of real estate developers throughout the region.
Our campaign coincides with the publication of a report from the US State Department, attacking the treatment of migrant workers throughout the Gulf.
It will no doubt have struck a cord with many people working in the construction industry.
Some will have read the report and thought ‘people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones’.
Others will have read it and thought, ‘if things are so bad, why do they come here to work?’
But let’s put aside the politics for one moment and look at the reality of the situation.
Anyone who has eyes to see will know that the majority of construction workers throughout the Gulf get a spectacularly raw deal from the moment they arrive in their host countries.
That many of these people may have come from environments with even bleaker prospects is really beside the point.
Crammed into hostels in remote labour camps and often cheated out of their earnings by unscrupulous labour agents, their relationship with their employers often resembles that of feudal serf to lord.
This is no exaggeration. A Construction Week reporter took a call this week from a site worker, who, along with 13 of his co-workers, had been held hostage in a room in a labour camp on the outskirts of Dubai by their boss as punishment for a fight that had broken out earlier that day.
This sort of behaviour is tragically routine. And what makes this really depressing is that it is history repeating itself.
The post-unification building boom in Germany in the late 1990s was characterised by fly-by-night contractors exploiting labourers and tradesmen from the UK, Turkey and other European countries.
Basic health and safety was routinely ignored, and labour agents often disappeared with several weeks worth of wages.
Rewind four decades to the post-war building boom in Britain.
Back then, it was immigrant Irish construction workers, or McAlpine’s Fusiliers, who were routinely exploited in the same way.
A century before that, the Chinese workers who built the US trans-continental railroad were forced to work in extremely dangerous conditions, many of them perishing in the process.
But this is the year 2005. We have health and safety regulations. We have labour laws. We have corporate social responsibility.
So why is it that some contractors continue to ignore the abuse of people employed on their sites through sub-contractors?
The answer is because they can.
It is easy to look the other way. But the construction industry has more guts than that, hasn’t it?||**||