Ministry of Labour blocked from investigating manpower issues

Ministry of Finance hasn’t released budget that would be used to look into freedom of movement for labourers.

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By  Eudore Chand Published  December 30, 2003

An investigation into manpower issues surrounding the construction industry is being held up because the Ministry of Finance and Industry has not released budgets to fund the study. Dr Khalid Al Khazraji, under secretary at the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, said that the “Management of Manpower” study, which was first announced in July this year, cannot go ahead without funding. “We have requested the Ministry of Finance for allocations for this project and we are waiting for a reply,” he said in an interview published in Khaleej Times. Dr Al Khazraji is keen to address this issue of immigrant labourers working illegally for several different companies because their original employer does not need their services all year round. It is common for construction workers, for example, to enter the country on a group visa with one company, but to work for several other companies as building projects are completed. This practice, argues Al Khazraji, is actually good for the construction industry because it leads to more efficient use of labour. The problem, however, is that the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs loses track of the workers’ movements, and is unable to assist workers or employers if disputes arise. In the past year, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs has issued group employment visas to around 400 000 workers; most of them for construction or general maintenance employers. But these employers are often faced with unemployed workers as one project ends before another starts. Typically, workers are seconded to other construction companies that find it more cost-effective and convenient to ‘borrow’ workers than to bring in more expatriates. The Management of Manpower study will look into all aspects of these labour issues. It will investigate whether far fewer immigrant workers could be brought to the UAE if visa laws allowed secondment between companies. It will see whether keeping track of immigrant workers as they jump between employers leads to fewer social and economic difficulties. And it will report on whether employers are able to safeguard workers’ human rights as they become freer to move. Dr Al Khazraji hopes that funding will become available for the study to go ahead early in the new year.

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