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Charity VS Labour Protections in the Gulf

On July 30, 2013

Charity and legal protections for migrant workers are not mutually exclusive, despite this heading’s suggestion. However, charity events and programs targeted at migrant workers are necessarily the product of and complemented by the paucity in legislative labour and social protections; the minimal implementation and enforcement of basic living standards require philanthropic intervention while the services rendered by charitable institutions justify and perpetuate their absence.

Charities fill critical gaps in social and legal protection mechanisms regarding, for example, reasonable recruitment fees, fair wages, working conditions, and medical care. That migrant workers must be given basic necessities, such as food and toiletries, because they cannot comfortably afford them with their wages evidences the acute transgression on migrant rights. The absence or under-enforcement of measures that guarantee migrants these minimum standards constitute the very need for these charities. Yet, charities are heavily propagandized; states point to drives or campaigns targeted at migrant workers to obviate legislative protections; cultural allusions to Arab hospitality often accompany these misleading statements. Charities receive substantial coverage in local media for these purposes:

Adopt-A-Camp charity event to be held in Dubai

The charity helping Dubai's workers

Thousands of Dubai labourers to receive food packages as part of charity drive

However, charitable activities cannot substitute legislative protections. Migrants do not benefit universally from philanthropy; for example, some drives or events are located in centralized locations that require workers to arrive on their own time - nearly impossible for most live-in domestic workers. Sometimes goods are distributed directly to labour camps, but even in these cases, not all labour camps are targeted. The inability to provision aid universally is intrinsic to the nature of charities and is not a shortcoming of a specific charity program itself. However, such limitations evidence that these charitable ventures can only ever complement, not substitute or render redundant, enforced legal protections. When,for example, living wages, are not only required by the state but enforced, the scope includes and affects all migrant workers. And in instances where migrants are deprived of such guarantees, they would have means and access to judicial redress.

The act of charity does function importantly in society and in Islam. Furthermore, charities often comprise the only form of civil society oriented towards migrants that local citizens can participate in, as NGO or other volunteer activities are heavily restricted. However, charities should not be maneuvered to obviate critical, basic standards of decent work and living conditions. Migrants cannot rendered dependent on the charity of individuals or organizations for their needs - they must be guaranteed them. The perpetuation of paternalistic attitudes towards migrants is inconsistent with the formalization of labour essential to respecting international employment standards and to recognizing the value of migrants’ economic contributions.