Construction companies operating in the Gulf region especially in the UAE and Qatar are failing to protect migrant workers from hazardous working environment, hinting at an alarming signal on the workers' safeguards in workplaces, said a survey report of Business & Human Rights Resource Centre.
The UK-based NGO that tracks the human rights impacts of over 6,900 companies, making information available on its website, enquired with 100 construction companies operating in the UAE and Qatar on the measures they are taking to stop exploitation of migrant workers.
Only 22 companies responded, indicating a shocking level of inaction for the migrant workers' protection measures.
The centre yesterday released the report titled “Wall of Silence: The Construction Sector's Response to Migrant Rights in Qatar and the UAE” analysing the companies' responses on some specific key indicators for the migrant workers' safety.
Migrant rights activists in Bangladesh have been expressing their worries over serious violation of the workers' rights in the workplaces abroad especially in the Gulf countries those hire around 80 percent of workers from Dhaka.
“As our workers' recruitment for the Gulf countries are mainly dealt with the outsourcing companies, the employers or the authorities usually avoid responsibility of ensuring protection measures for the workers. The Bangladeshis remain deprived of enjoying their legal rights of getting safe workplaces, fair wages, health and accommodation,” said Prof CR Abrar, executive director of Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU) yesterday.
More than 10 lakh Bangladeshis are now working for the construction firms in Qatar and the UAE, according to statistics of Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training (BMET).
RECRUITMENT, CONTRACTS AND RIGHTS
Only 10 companies mentioned of some degree of direct involvement in the recruitment process – through, among others, in-country interviews, recruitment, visits, and spot checks. Eleven companies stated that they have a no fee policy, but only seven of these made explicit mention of bearing the cost of recruitment.
In some cases, workers are found to have paid fees, five companies referred to a policy of worker reimbursement and six companies asserted that they would terminate their business relationship or remove the agency from their preferred supplier lists if found to be charging fees.
Workers who have paid recruitment fees can therefore find themselves in situations akin to forced labour as they have no option but to work for lower wages to meet their debt repayments.
Only 13 responding construction firms have a public commitment to human rights. The lack of commitment of the huge number of companies is alarming given the wide-spread exploitation and abuse faced by the large numbers of migrant workers employed in the construction firms in Qatar and the UAE in particular.
ACCOMMODATION, HEALTH AND SAFETY
The appalling living conditions of migrant construction workers in Qatar and the UAE have been the subject of media attention, prompting clients to introduce standards for worker accommodation that exceed the requirements of the labour law.
Only eight companies described their approach, including regular audits and inspections by the company, meetings with accommodation providers, comment boxes or convening of workers. Only 10 companies reported being externally audited by government bodies, clients or civil society and independent consultants.
Only 11 companies referred to their health and safety training programmes and eight made specific mention of providing workers with personal protective equipment.
Eleven responding companies provided statistics on accidents and fatalities in their Qatar or UAE operations. In the event of an injury, eight companies confirmed the presence of trained medical personnel on site.
The NGO recommends that companies should adopt a policy commitment to human rights by upholding international standards on the protection of migrant workers.