MIGRANT LABOUR

Under pressure, Qatar announces that it will change archaic laws for workers building World Cup facilities

Integrate Gulf workers into cities they are building, help them pay their recruitment debt, urges new report on Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.

Following international scrutiny of the conditions of migrant labourers building Qatar's 2022 FIFA World Cup facilities, the Gulf country on Thursday announced that it would abolish its controversial labour laws so that workers no longer have to be dependent on their employers to enter, exit and move within the country. Activists hope that the neighbouring United Arab Emirates will also follow suit.

Kafala, the labour system prevalent across the Gulf, Jordan and Lebanon, requires migrant workers to work with the kafeel or sponsor who gives them employment for the period of their contract. Workers are not permitted to leave the country or change employment without written permission from the kafeel. In Qatar, they even have to pay fees to obtain an exit visa.

There is similar international pressure in the UAE, where groups of activists, including the Gulf Labour Coalition, have urged the government to make a smaller, if not less significant, moves towards ending its exploitative employment practices by giving workers a one-time payment for the hefty recruitment fees they pay to travel to and work in the country.

A new report filed by an activist group called the Gulf Labour Coalition has called on the Abu Dhabi-based Tourism Development and Investment Company, which it calls the “master developer” of Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, to help workers to pay off the debts they incurred for working on the project.

Workers travelling to the Gulf often take loans on their land in their home countries to pay these fees, which can go up to Rs 1 lakh in India, and end up spending the two-year duration of their visa repaying that debt. If they are unable to repay in time, some even lose their property. Due to this threat, they are unable to leave whether or not their working conditions are exploitative.

Saadiyat, an island conceived of in 2004 as a grand cultural hub in Abu Dhabi, will have several museums, educational institutions and including the first international outposts of the Louvre in France and the Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation and Museum in New York. These establishments, like many others in the Gulf, are being built by migrant labourers, many of whom are from South Asia.

The Gulf Labour Coalition is formed of a group of artists who have been campaigning for migrant construction workers to be treated with dignity. Members of the coalition recently surveyed conditions at the housing of builders working on two sites, the Guggenheim and the Louvre.

While the living conditions are nominally good in the camp, workers are isolated from the city. The camp is not visible even from the highway and is surrounded by security fences. There are no workers unions, many of them are still paying off loans, and they are frequently moved from place to place.

Apart from helping workers pay their sponsorship debts, if the report is implemented, it could improve their conditions across the board. It asks that the workers on the Saadiyat project, which is estimated to take about 20 years to build, be integrated into the final city.

“On Saadiyat, we are looking at the future of the conditions of migrant labour in the UAE,” Ashok Sukumaran, co-founder of Indian artists collective CAMP, wrote in an email to Scroll.in. “And this future was scary-looking, from our visit. So we should make it clear that jail-like exclusion and segregation of worker cities, even if they are nice and clean on the inside, are not an ideal model to follow.”

Sukumaran, who is associated with Gulf Labour, was a part of the group that visited Saadiyat for this report. He is now working with several organisations in India and across South Asia to increase awareness about the recruitment process in the source countries, and to urge the governments of these countries to take note of these issues.

The report also asks for recruitment fees to be set at a reasonable level, that organised workers groups be allowed to communicate their concerns to the management, and for the Tourism Development and Investment Company to disseminate detailed information about its recruitment process.

“So far the response to recruitment debt issues from the UAE end, including TDIC…in particular has been that recruitment debt is a ‘home countries’ problem and cannot be solved in the UAE,” he added.

Artists from around the world have threatened to boycott the new museums by not contributing their art once it finally opens. In February, protesters from G.U.L.F., a group associated with the Gulf Labour Coalition, stormed the Guggenheim Museum in New York and flung pamphlets at visitors, asking that the museum examine the conditions in which its Abu Dhabi wing was being built.

“The broader picture is that we have an opportunity here to question and reform the kafala or sponsored visa system, across many gulf countries including Qatar as has been recently in the news,” Sukumaran added. “Migrant worker populations, the vast majority of the population [in the United Arab Emirates] anyway, should have full access and rights to the cities that they are building.”

 
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Getting the best from collaborations

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There are enough examples of hospitals that have gained significantly by partnering with or investing in such ventures. For example, the Children’s Medical Centre in Dallas actively invests in tech startups to offer better care to its patients. One such startup produces sensors smaller than a grain of sand, that can be embedded in pills to alert caregivers if a medication has been taken or not. Another app delivers care givers at customers’ door step for check-ups. Providence St Joseph’s Health, that has medical centres across the U.S., has invested in a range of startups that address different patient needs – from patient feedback and wearable monitoring devices to remote video interpretation and surgical blood loss monitoring. UNC Hospital in North Carolina uses a change management platform developed by a startup in order to improve patient experience at its Emergency and Dermatology departments. The platform essentially comes with a friendly and non-intrusive way to gather patient feedback.

When intrapreneurship can lead to patient centric innovation

Hospitals can also encourage a culture of intrapreneurship within the organization. According to Meena Ganesh, this would mean building a ‘listening organization’ because as she says, listening and being open to new ideas leads to innovation. Santosh Desai, MD& CEO - Future Brands Ltd, who was also part of the panel discussion, feels that most innovations are a result of looking at “large cultural shifts, outside the frame of narrow business”. So hospitals will need to encourage enterprising professionals in the organization to observe behavior trends as part of the ideation process. Also, as Dr Ram Narain, Executive Director, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, points out, they will need to tell the employees who have the potential to drive innovative initiatives, “Do not fail, but if you fail, we still back you.” Innovative companies such as Google actively follow this practice, allowing employees to pick projects they are passionate about and work on them to deliver fresh solutions.

Realizing the need to encourage new ideas among employees to enhance patient experience, many healthcare enterprises are instituting innovative strategies. Henry Ford System, for example, began a system of rewarding great employee ideas. One internal contest was around clinical applications for wearable technology. The incentive was particularly attractive – a cash prize of $ 10,000 to the winners. Not surprisingly, the employees came up with some very innovative ideas that included: a system to record mobility of acute care patients through wearable trackers, health reminder system for elderly patients and mobile game interface with activity trackers to encourage children towards exercising. The employees admitted later that the exercise was so interesting that they would have participated in it even without a cash prize incentive.

Another example is Penn Medicine in Philadelphia which launched an ‘innovation tournament’ across the organization as part of its efforts to improve patient care. Participants worked with professors from Wharton Business School to prepare for the ideas challenge. More than 1,750 ideas were submitted by 1,400 participants, out of which 10 were selected. The focus was on getting ideas around the front end and some of the submitted ideas included:

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  • Help for non-English speakers: Iconography cards to help non-English speaking patients express themselves and seek help in case of emergencies or other situations.

As Arlen Meyers, MD, President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs, says in a report, although many good ideas come from the front line, physicians must also be encouraged to think innovatively about patient experience. An academic study also builds a strong case to encourage intrapreneurship among nurses. Given they comprise a large part of the front-line staff for healthcare delivery, nurses should also be given the freedom to create and design innovative systems for improving patient experience.

According to a Harvard Business Review article quoted in a university study, employees who have the potential to be intrapreneurs, show some marked characteristics. These include a sense of ownership, perseverance, emotional intelligence and the ability to look at the big picture along with the desire, and ideas, to improve it. But trust and support of the management is essential to bringing out and taking the ideas forward.

Creating an environment conducive to innovation is the first step to bringing about innovation-driven outcomes. These were just some of the insights on healthcare management gleaned from the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott. In over 150 countries, Abbott, which is among the top 100 global innovator companies, is working with hospitals and healthcare professionals to improve the quality of health services.

To read more content on best practices for hospital leaders, visit Abbott’s Bringing Health to Life portal here.

This article was produced on behalf of Abbott by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.