Are we all becoming numb to the numbers?

In the league table of excuses given to construction workers by their bosses for not paying them on time, the one reported in a recent edition of the Kuwait-based Arab Times, must take the cake. It was a story about 100 Chinese labourers who were owed eight months in unpaid wages. Unfortunately, we have all become a bit anaesthetized to stories such as this one.

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By  Sean Cronin Published  January 21, 2006

|~||~||~|In the league table of excuses given to construction workers by their bosses for not paying them on time, the one reported in a recent edition of the Kuwait-based Arab Times, must take the cake. It was a story about 100 Chinese labourers who were owed eight months in unpaid wages. Unfortunately, we have all become a bit anaesthetized to stories such as this one. Newspapers throughout the Gulf carry reports about pay disputes involving construction workers almost every day. The only difference between them usually, is how much money is owed and how many workers it is owed to. But the reason given for not paying these labourers the money that was owed to them, is deserving of a special mention. After taking their protest to the Chinese ambassador last week, the men were approached by a representative of their employer who informed them that if they had read the small print of their contracts, they would know that they were not due to be paid any wages at all for two years. Yes, that’s right — two years! “This is to ensure the labourers do not ‘waste’ their money on vices like gambling and drinking,’’ the paper reported the official as saying. Yes, that must be a very serious concern in a dry country where gambling is illegal. While the 100 Chinese workers in Kuwait struggled to get paid, around 1500 south Asian workers took to the streets in Sharjah — some of them owed up to four months in unpaid wages. If the governments of the region continue to allow labour agents to withhold wages owed to construction workers it is up to the industry to ensure that those labour agents are not repeatedly given business — otherwise it amounts to tacit support of what can only be described as despicably exploitative recruitment practices. Another story that the industry here has become anaesthetized to is the health and safety of site workers. Perhaps the most alarming thing about the statistics released this week by Dubai Municipality is not the number of deaths themselves (although they are shockingly high for one city), but the number of people killed as a result of falls from height — 22 from a total of 39 deaths. Are harnesses and edge protection really that expensive? Sean Cronin Editor||**||

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