Construction Week Newsletter 3rd September 2005

It’s all kicking off in Qatar. Fed up with being treated like slave labourers, site workers have downed tools in protest over pay and conditions.

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By  Sean Cronin Published  September 3, 2005

Qatar blazes trail as workers down tools|~||~||~|It’s all kicking off in Qatar. Fed up with being treated like slave labourers, site workers have downed tools in protest over pay and conditions. In 2004, Qatar became the third country in the region behind Kuwait and Bahrain, to allow workers the right to strike and form trade unions. And now they have decided to exercise that right in what is the first official labour dispute to have erupted in the country. Having opened the Pandora’s box of trade unionism, the authorities are now being stung to death by the discontented worker bees. Give us our money or make your own honey, they seem to be saying. It shouldn’t come as a particular shock to anyone. If you ask people to leave their families, travel to a foreign country, work their guts out, risk their lives on unsafe sites, live in squalid accommodation and then not bother to pay them for months on end, chances are they won’t be best pleased. The mistreatment of construction labourers in Qatar seems particularly perverse, given that next year it is expected to replace Switzerland as the richest country per capita in the world. In this same country, skilled construction trades such as electricians are lucky to clear US $40-a-week. That workers are saying enough is enough, seems to be entirely reasonable. While it is encouraging to see that the Indian Embassy has taken practical steps to punish those firms that it believes have mistreated workers, a lot more needs to be done to tackle the problem at source. A total of 11 firms, mostly from the construction sector, have been removed from the embassy’s approved list while a further 35 have been put on a watch list. Yet the embassy has stopped short of naming and shaming them. What use is blacklisting a company if the public does not know that it has been blacklisted? But it isn’t Qatar’s contractors who are the biggest villains of the piece, and the authorities in India may need to look closer to home. The real rogues are the agents who take up to US $1700 from gullible job seekers for the privilege of finding them work on building sites across the GCC. This is big business and the gangsters who run these agencies are trading in human misery. Unless something is done to stop them, the entire industry will suffer the consequences of more industrial unrest and strikes. Sean Cronin Editor||**||

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