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Mon 30 Jan 2012 11:22 AM

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Gulf states urged to repair ‘appalling’ worker conditions

World’s largest trade union body says Arab Spring reforms must include more workers’ rights

Gulf states urged to repair ‘appalling’ worker conditions
[Image for illustrative purposes only]

The Gulf states should expand social reforms planned in the
wake of the Arab Spring protests to include an overhaul of conditions for
blue-collar migrants
, the world’s largest trade union said.

Despite pledges to address criticisms of workers’ rights, the
conditions for the GCC’s thousands of low-skilled migrants remains “appalling”,
the International Trade Union Confederation said.

“It is abominable that it exists when the Gulf [states]
believe they are fully paid-up members of the global community,” said Sharan
Burrow, general secretary at the ITUC. “The abuse of trade and union rights is
extraordinary in some of the wealthiest nations in the world.

“The bulk of [citizens] want democratic rights and freedoms.
But the bulk of the workforce across the GCC are migrant workers [that] are
basically enslaved.”

Oman, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are among the GCC states that
have unveiled significant social spending plans and a host of reforms following
a wave of political unrest in the Arab world.

Saudi has, for the first time, given women the right to vote
and has pledged to spend some $134bn on projects such as low-cost housing and
creating jobs.

Lobby groups such as ITUC have said they plan to capitalise on
efforts by GCC states to host world events such as the Olympic Games and the
2022 football World Cup in Qatar to force nations to pay closer attention to
the rights of expatriate workers.

Fifa had a taste of this tactic in November, when it was
lobbied by trade unions objecting to the conditions of “modern slavery” experienced
by blue-collar migrants in Qatar.

In a letter to soccer’s governing body, the ITUC asked that
the gas-rich Gulf state be stripped of its hosting rights for the 2022 World
Cup if conditions failed to improve

“We have already indicated to the Gulf states - and Qatar in
particular - that this model of 21st century enslavement of labour can’t
continue,” said Burrow.

“We have two ambitions: to organise workers and press
government for… the right to collective agreement, beginning with a minimum
wage and social protection.”

The Gulf plays host to millions of migrants, primarily from
Asia, who account for the majority of blue-collar workers in the construction,
domestic work, and service industries.

An estimated three million migrate each year, sending back
an estimated $175bn in remittances annually, according to Human Rights Watch

The six GCC states employ around 15 million guest workers,
according to World Bank figures. In Kuwait, there is approximately one migrant
domestic worker for every two citizens.

Qatar this month vowed to ensure all contractors signed
ahead of the 2022 World Cup adhered to international labour laws, in response
to widespread criticism. Burrow also said that feeder countries needed to do
more to ensure the welfare of their citizens when working in the GCC.

countries are exporting their own citizens,” she said. “It doesn’t absent them
from demanding human and trade unions for their own people. We wish countries
would stand up for their own citizens.”