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.”

 
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content  BY 

Want to retire at 45? Make your money work for you

Common sense and some discipline are all you need.

Dreaming of writing that book or taking that cruise when you hit your 40s? Well this dream need not be unrealistic.

All it takes is simple math and the foresight to do some smart financial planning when you are still young. If you start early and get into the discipline of cutting down on unnecessary expenditure, using that money to invest systematically, you can build wealth that sets you free to tick those items off your bucket list sooner than later.

A quick look at how much you spend on indulgences will give you an idea of how much you can save and invest. For example, if you spend, say Rs. 1,000 on movie watching per week, this amount compounded over 10 years means you would have spent around Rs 7,52,000 on just movies! You can try this calculation for yourself. Think of any weekly or monthly expense you regularly make. Now use this calculator to understand how much these expenses will pile up overtime with the current rate of inflation.

Now imagine how this money could have grown at the end of 10 years and overcome the inflation effect if you had instead taken a part invested it somewhere!

It is no rocket science

The fact is that financial planning is simpler than we imagine it to be. Some simple common sense and a clear prioritization of life’s goals is all you need:

  1. Set goals and work backwards: Everything starts with what you want. So, what are your goals? Are they short-term (like buying a car), medium-term (buying a house) or long-term (comfortable living post-retirement). Most of us have goals that come under all the three categories. So, our financial plans should reflect that. Buying a house, for example, would mean saving up enough money for up-front payment and ensuring you have a regular source of income for EMI payment for a period of at least 15-20 years. Buying a car on the other hand might just involve having a steady stream of income to pay off the car loan.
  2. Save first, spend later: Many of us make the mistake of putting what is left, after all our expenses have been met, in the savings kitty. But the reverse will have more benefits in the long run. This means, putting aside a little savings, right at the beginning of the month in the investment option that works best for you. You can then use the balance to spend on your expenditures. This discipline ensures that come what may, you remain on track with your saving goals.
  3. Don’t flaunt money, but use it to create more: When you are young and get your first jobit is tempting to spend on a great lifestyle. But as we’ve discussed, even the small indulgences add up to a serious amount of cash over time. Instead, by regulating indulgences now and investing the rest of your money, you can actually become wealthy instead of just seeming to be so.
  4. Set aside emergency funds: When an emergency arises, like sudden hospitalisation or an accident, quick access to money is needed. This means keeping aside some of your money in liquid assets (accessible whenever you want it). It thus makes sense to regularly save a little towards creating this emergency fund in an investment that can be easily liquidated.
  5. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket: This is something any investment adviser will tell you, simply because different investment options come with different benefits and risks and suit different investment horizons. By investing in a variety of instruments or options, you can hedge against possible risks and also meet different goals.

How and Why Mutual Funds work

A mutual fund is a professionally managed investment scheme that pools money collected from investors like you and invests this into a diversified portfolio (an optimal mix) of stocks, bonds and other securities.

As an investor, you buy ‘units’, under a mutual fund scheme. The value of these units (Net Asset Value) fluctuates depending on the market value of the mutual fund’s investments. So, the units can be bought or redeemed as per your needs and based on the value.

As mentioned, the fund is managed by professionals who follow the market closely the make calls on where to invest money. This makes these funds a great option for someone who isn’t financially very savvy but is interested in saving up for the future.

So how is a mutual fund going to help to meet your savings goals? Here’s a quick Q&A helps you understand just that:

  1. How do mutual funds meet my investment needs?Mutual Funds come with a variety of schemes that suit different goals depending on whether they are short-term, medium-term or long-term.
  2. Can I withdraw money whenever I want to?There are several mutual funds that offer liquidity – quick and easy access to your money when you want it. For example, there are liquid mutual funds which do not have any lock in period and you can invest your surplus money even for one day. Based on your goals, you can divide your money between funds with longer term or shorter term benefits.
  3. Does it help save on taxes?Investing in certain types of mutual funds also offers you tax benefits. More specifically, investing in Equity Linked Saving Schemes, which are funds that invest in a diverse portfolio of equities, offers you tax deductions up to Rs. 1.5 lakhs under Section 80C of the Income Tax Act.
  4. Don’t I need a lot of money to invest in MFs?No, you can start small. The returns in terms of percentage is the same irrespective of the amount you invest in. Additionally, the Systematic Investment Plan (SIP) allows you to invest a small amount weekly, monthly or quarterly in a mutual fund. So, you get to control the size and frequency of your investment and make sure you save before you spend.
  5. But aren’t MFs risky?Well many things in life are risky! Mutual funds try to mitigate your risk by investing your money across a variety of securities. You can further hedge risk by investing in 2 to 3 mutual offers that offer different growth stories i.e. a blue-chip fund and a mid-cap fund. Also remember in a mutual fund, your money is being managed by professionals who are constantly following the market.
  6. Don’t I have to wait too long to get back my returns?No! Mutual Funds, because of the variety of options they offer, can give you gains in the short or medium term too.

The essence of MF is that your money is not lying idle, but is dynamically invested and working for you. To know more about how investing in mutual funds really works for you, see here.

Disclaimer: Mutual Fund investments are subject to market risks, read all scheme related documents carefully.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Mutual Funds Sahi Hai and not by the Scroll editorial team.