Securing a lifeline for many families

Sanjay’s tragedy should not mask the profound benefits to all sides when workers from south Asia take jobs in the UAE.

The heartbreaking story of the family of Sanjay, one of the 13 workers from India and Bangladesh who were killed in a bus crash in Dubai last week, provides a window into the lives of these workers. As The National reported yesterday, his death left his family in India in debt because his father had borrowed 30,000 rupees (Dh1,869) to send his son to work in the UAE. Sanjay’s wife and children – a girl aged 18 months and a boy aged four – lost not just their father but also the family’s breadwinner.

Sanjay is one of millions of workers who work overseas so their families can have a better life. Critics of the working and living conditions they face here are missing an important fact: although earning meagre wages compared to the developed world, workers like Sanjay collectively send $20bn (Dh73bn) each year from the UAE. Remittances not only bolster the economies of the workers’ home countries but transform lives: allowing children to get an education to break the cycle of poverty for future generations. The simple fact is the wages Sanjay could earn as a pipe fitter in the UAE are much higher than he could earn in India.

However these benefits ought not to be seen as a licence for their employers in the UAE to ignore the workers’ rights and welfare. The UAE government has invoked strict rules about how these people ought to be treated in terms of accommodation and working hours. As The National reports today, the Ministry of Labour conducted 138,801 inspections last year, as well as 11,807 visits to inspect workers’ accommodation.

In this, the UAE government has done much to protect these workers’ rights but there is always room for improvement. The National has argued recently that authorities should make sure that labourers are compensated for overtime and ought not to face long bus rides between their workplaces and their accommodation.

Wages and conditions are a delicate balancing act. To give these workers the same wages and living conditions as in the developed world would render many of the projects they work on financially unfeasible. It would mean workers like Sanjay would not have the option of working in the UAE and his family would be trapped in poverty. This helps nobody.

Vigilance is needed to prevent accidents of the kind that killed Sanjay, but his tragic case ought not to blind observers to the profound benefits to all sides when workers from south Asia take jobs in the UAE.

Published: May 28, 2014 04:00 AM

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