Bare necessities of workers must be taken care of

Workers in the UAE on the most modest wages should not have to pay for life's essentials

Few who read The National’s coverage yesterday of labourers selling goods at makeshift markets would not have been moved. Moved, firstly, by the entrepreneurial spirit shown by labourers doing business on their one day off, with very few resources. In a country where so many with greater resources – both financial and educational – struggle to make their businesses succeed, it is quite astonishing to read of men making a profit with such small sums of money. Yet moved, secondly, by the fact that so many people of modest means have to work second jobs to supplement their incomes.

To unpick this, start with the nature of a capitalist system. (For an alternative, see Thomas Piketty’s ideas in the following editorial.) Workers sell their labour and because the countries from which they come have so little work available, they are willing to move abroad for what are, to many reading this newspaper, modest wages. For many workers, however, these wages feed their families back home and educate their children.

Secondly, entrepreneurship is clearly in the blood of many of these workers, as it is in the general population. There is an attraction to buying and selling, and to browsing for products, whether that it is at an illegal market outside a labour camp or the largest mall in the world.

Yet what will bother many about the labour camp markets is the economic push that makes many of these workers seek to supplement their wages. There are modest policy solutions that could improve their lives. The first would be the provision of essential services. Labour camps should come equipped with places where labourers can have their hair cut and their work clothes mended for a token price. In addition, soap and shower gel should be provided free – as they are in restrooms in malls and airports. Thirdly, food provided by these camps must be healthy and nutritious, sufficient to fuel men for a day’s hard work. Animals cooked by the roadside can hardly be safe to eat.

That will not curb the markets, but it should reduce their use for essential services and provide workers with a measure of comfort. There is no reason why those who come to work in the UAE should not be afforded small comforts that make life bearable. Entrepreneurship is a wonderful thing, but those on the most modest wages should not have to pay for life’s essentials.

Published: May 25, 2014 04:00 AM