There is increased awareness amongst companies and individuals to consider their responsibility and the role they can play in the treatment of low-income migrant workers. In the wider context of global supply chain management and reputational risk management, a company's internal voluntary codes of conduct can help boost protection for low-income migrant workers, in particular in jurisdictions where legislative enforcement is missing or ineffective. This article aims to address some of the key issues on this subject.
Migrant-Rights.Org is a non-profit organisation based and operating in the region working to document migrants' narratives, encourage discussion and changes in attitudes and practices towards migrant workers. Clyde & Co has been providing pro bono legal advice in what has developed into a positive example of multi-stakeholder collaboration enabling a positive social impact on the lives of many low-income migrant workers and their families.
Low-income migrant workers
Migrant workers make up nearly 50% of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) population and are employed in every sector and in every position. This includes professional, executives and well-paid migrant workers who may not need special legal protection. However, the majority of migrant workers are low-income migrants in construction, agriculture and domestic work. This group of workers are a section of the workforce needing greater protection and yet, in the case of domestic workers in particular, they are often omitted from the protection of local labour laws in the GCC and are treated less favourably than other wage workers. Low-income workers often face unfair wages, excessively long hours, and restrictions on their freedom of movement and, at times, are vulnerable to abuse with little or no legal recourse.
Legislative developments in the GCC
The United Arab Emirates (UAE), the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the State of Qatar have each recently introduced legislative, policy enactments and increased enforcement of the existing regulatory framework to improve the rights of low-income migrant workers. These provisions have included the protection of wages through the introduction of wage protection systems and greater enforcement of the prohibition on workers paying recruitment fees, together with an increasing awareness in both the public and private sector of how widespread worker-funded recruitment currently is.
In the context of domestic workers new legislation has taken effect which provides for paid sick leave, annual holiday and end of service benefits. A previous article examined the new rights for domestic workers in the GCC.
These statutory provisions are seen as a positive step in the protection of low-income migrant workers. Effective enforcement of these legal mechanisms will now become key in determining whether protections are extended to migrant workers in practice.
Collaborative multi-stakeholder solutions
Migrant-Rights.Org works to reform unfair and discriminatory employment and residency laws and to help extend protections to all migrant workers and their families. It works on multi-stakeholder solutions with migrants, citizens, governments, journalists, lawyers, private companies and public entities with a network platform that encourages discussion and action between these different stakeholders.
Clyde & Co's pro bono support
Clyde & Co has been providing pro bono legal advice to Migrant-Rights.Org from our Doha office since 2016 on the relevant labour laws and practices. This work has included the drafting of a best practice guide for companies in relation to the employment of migrant workers and a code of conduct for private companies' employees in their employment of domestic workers. Clyde & Co reviews and drafts documentation produced by the various stakeholders in the project, including diligence checklists for the appointment of consultants or when services will be sub-contracted.
Clyde & Co provides legal and practical advice in terms of compliance and implementation, respectively. For example, given manpower activities are not permitted in Qatar, advice has been provided on how service arrangements should be properly structured and regularised in compliance with Qatar laws and regulations. This aims to ensure that risks to all parties, including the migrant workers providing the services, are mitigated. In addition Clyde & Co has helped introduce the best practice guides and code of conducts to clients and wider business networks, both regionally and internationally.
This positive working relationship between the various stakeholders further developed over time, with Clyde & Co providing pro bono support to roundtable discussion groups, presentations at meetings with government and key industry stakeholders and awareness-raising events. The pro bono support on this important topic has also since expanded to our UAE offices and we hope to extend further to our Riyadh office, enabling a joined-up approach across the GCC to consider the common difficulties affecting the lives of many individual workers and their families.
Supply chain and risk management
In the wider global context, with legislation such as the UK's Modern Slavery Act, the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act and the 'Duty of Vigilance' Law in France, there are requirements for greater accountability for multi-national companies sourcing from global supply chains and working in multi-jurisdictions. There are greater legislative requirements in conjunction with voluntary action and consumer and shareholder pressure on companies to exercise greater due diligence and to reduce abuses in global supply chains and the concern of reputational risks from possible exposure.
With the award of the World Cup to Qatar in 2022 and with construction in Dubai for Expo 2020 expected to peak in 2018 and early 2019, migrant worker rights have become an important issue in these high profile projects.
This innovative and constructive approach from Migrant-Rights.Org has enabled a positive collaboration based on the dialogue of promoting positive change. Along with the legislative reforms, increased awareness of these issues and companies adopting their own best-practice will hopefully improve the conditions for many low-income migrant workers in the GCC region.