Engineers Against Poverty recommends improvements to Wage Protection Systems in the Gulf, based on global comparison

Engineers Against Poverty (EAP) have released the third paper in a series focusing on protecting the addressing the issue of late, partial or non-payment of wages of migrant construction workers in the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.

Low-wage migrant workers are particularly vulnerable to exploitation by contractors and subcontractors unable or unwilling to pay wages in full and on time. Designed to reduce labour disputes and protect workers, Wage Protection Systems (WPS) were introduced across all GCC countries to pay migrant workers electronically and track salary payments. Despite the WPS, delayed wages remain one of the most frequent labour abuses faced by migrant workers - "it has so far failed to reduce them or to serve as a deterrent to late or non-payment of wages".

EAP's paper considers wage protection systems and legislation in four other countries or regions (China, EU, US and Latin America) to identify measures that could be adopted in the GCC countries. Common threads identified by EAP included the importance of extending liability for delayed wages across the supply chain to hold main contractors and project owners legally responsible for ensuring workers on projects received their due wages on time, introducing mandatory licensing and registering for labour suppliers, and imposing sanctions on non-compliant employers.

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Article
2 October 2019

Protecting migrant construction workers: What can we learn from China, EU, US and Latin America?

Author: Engineers Against Poverty

[Engineers Against Poverty's report focuses] on protecting the wages of migrant construction workers in countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). With the Wage Protection System (WPS) failing to adequately protect vulnerable workers in the region, this paper looks beyond the countries of the GCC to examine wage protection measures in China, EU, US and Latin America... [measures] are linked by attempts to extend liability for wages beyond the immediate employer in subcontracting chains. Doing so mitigates against the ruthless aspects of the supply chain, so that workers at the bottom will still be paid even if not from their employer who sits directly above them.

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Report
2 October 2019

Protecting the wages of migrant construction workers: What can be learned from systems of wage protection in China, EU, US and Latin America?

Author: Jill Wells and Maria da Graca Prado (Engineers Against Poverty)

[Main findings and measures for GGC states to introduce:]

  • A system of chain liability… can provide a strong deterrent effect to late, partial or non-payment of wages to construction workers.
  • A nuanced system of secondary joint liability… can create incentives for contractors and project owners to employ appropriate due diligence checks…
  • Extending liability for wages to the users of the labour (which may be main contractor or subcontractors) would seem to be a priority.
  • Licensing and registering of labour suppliers as employment agencies, and extending the penalties for wage violations that the agencies are liable for to the user company may be an alternative.
  • Legally enforceable obligation[s] on main contractors to:
      • check that all workers on a site which they control are enrolled in the WPS;
      • introduce a clocking system on major sites to provide an accurate record of workers’ hours and overtime;
      • ensure that contracts with subcontractors contain sufficient funds for wages to be paid by the subcontractor at the minimum rate.
  • Extending liability and/or obligations… [with] strong sanctions against those who fail to comply. Directing penalties against the top of the chain… can send a strong signal to others. Debarment from government contracts is the strongest signal that can be used against main contractors. 

Download the full document here