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Tue 22 Dec 2015 02:13 PM

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Gulf builders urged to adopt new guidelines to protect workers

Human Rights Watch draws up new standards to address 'rampant abuse and exploitation of worker’s rights in GCC'

Gulf builders urged to adopt new guidelines to protect workers
(Photo for illustrative purposes only)

Construction firms operating in the Gulf region are being urged to adopt a new set of guidelines which have been drawn up by an international human rights group in a bid to protect their workers.

Human Rights Watch on Tuesday issued a set of guidelines to protect migrant construction workers, saying companies should adopt the standards to ensure that they and their contractors and sub-contractors respect the rights of migrant workers from serious abuses, including trafficking and forced labour.

“In the face of rampant abuse and exploitation of worker’s rights in GCC countries, construction firms need to step up to protect their workforce,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director.

“These guidelines outline how companies can guarantee workers’ basic rights under international law and would make a huge difference in ending worker exploitation.”

The Guide to Doing Ethical Business in the GCC outlines specific standards that companies should address when working in the GCC states of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE to safeguard workers’ rights and minimise the risk of abuses in their labour supply chains.

Human rights organisations and the media have shone a spotlight for many years on the appalling living and working conditions of many low-wage migrant workers in the GCC’s construction sector.

The guidelines are based on more than a decade of research, Human Rights Watch said in a statement. They cover issues such as recruitment fees, timely payment of wages, passport confiscation, accommodation, and health and safety. They recommend independent third-party monitoring to ensure effective implementation.

The group said that despite some recent positive legal reforms in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, migrant workers in GCC countries frequently experience hazardous, sometimes deadly, working conditions, long hours, unpaid wages, and cramped and unsanitary housing.

With the exception of Bahrain, GCC governments ban migrant workers from forming unions to collectively bargain with their employers, it added.

Human Rights Watch said migrant workers are forced to work under the kafala system of sponsorship-based employment, which restricts them from changing employers without their employer’s consent. Adding to that, employers universally confiscate workers’ passports in order to maintain control over their movements.

Businesses and construction companies operating in the GCC countries should make a public commitment to uphold migrant workers’ rights and should verify that they have done so, Human Rights Watch said.

Among the key recommendations to companies are:

* To ensure that they and their contractors and sub-contractors pay all recruiting fees associated with workers on their projects, including reimbursing workers found to have paid such fees;

* To provide workers with safe facilities to maintain possession of their passports;

* To pay workers on time and in full;

* To carry out requirements for maximum working hours with overtime pay;

* To provide workers with decent accommodations; and

* To appoint independent monitors who issue public reports to ensure that workers get the benefits of labor protections, in practice, and not just on paper.

“This is a big challenge for the construction sector, but it will have benefits for the welfare of hundreds of thousands of young men and their families, not to mention the companies’ own reputations,” Whitson said.

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