Migrant workers in construction
EAP is pleased to publish a paper which examines the role of migrant workers in the construction industry and explores the reasons for the late or non-payment of wages.
Migrant construction workers in many parts of the world face two major risks: the risk of not having work and of not being paid for the work they have done. This paper traces the problem to the payment system in the construction industry, which has failed to adjust to changes in the way in which workers are employed and migrant workers incorporated into construction labour markets. In the search for greater ‘flexibility’, employment relationships have been redefined in recent decades as labour is externalised by the use of subcontractors, labour contractors and temporary employment agencies.
Construction workers are increasingly distanced from principal contractors and the source of funds by long subcontracting chains. Applications for payment travel up the chain while payment travels down. If every actor in the chain made prompt payment to the tier below, it could still take many months to reach the furthest points. However, clients often do not pay on time and ‘pay when paid’ clauses in contracts allow contractors to avoid paying their subcontractors until they have received payment themselves. Last to be paid are the employers (subcontractors, labour suppliers and agencies) at the bottom of the chain. When the flow of cash dries up, the only option is to borrow form the bank or renege on their debt to the workers.
This paper focuses on the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, where the problem of late payment of wages is particularly serious as, under the kafala system, workers are unable to change their employer or leave the country, even when they are not being paid. Late payment produces serious stress for workers and is the principal cause of industrial unrest. In recognition of the problem, these countries have recently introduced a ‘Wage Protection System’ (WPS). EAP is currently undertaking further research into the WPS, together with an exploration of other measures that have been introduced around the world and could be adopted by governments, clients and contractors to ensure that all workers receive their wages on time. The draft of this second paper will be published shortly, with an invitation to a workshop to gather feedback and discuss the way forward.
Further information on our project is available via this link. The project builds upon EAP's previous research in the field, ‘Improving employment standards in construction in Qatar’.