Major changes in Mideast labour policies


Nada Al Nashef, Beirut-based Regional Director for Arab countries, said there had been some ‘serious and positive’ changes in labour strategies in a number of the region’s states. These include an unemployment compensation scheme introduced by Bahrain and labour reforms in Oman, the UAE and also Bahrain, she added.

"These changes," Nashef said, "reflect a strong interest by these countries to improve the status of foreign labour and give them equal treatment in pay and care as fundamental labour rights dictate."

She was speaking at the opening of a three-day regional seminar on the ILO ‘Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work’. The meeting, hosted by the Oman government in conjunction with ILO, was inaugurated by Manpower Minister Dr Juma bin Ali bin Juma.

The declaration, adopted in 1998, aims to ensure that social progress goes hand in hand with economic development, and commits member states to respect and promote principles and rights in four categories: freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining, the elimination of forced or compulsory labour, the abolition of child labour and the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

It also underlines that that these rights are universal, and that they apply to all people in all states, irrespective of the level of economic development. The declaration particularly mentions groups with special needs, including the unemployed and migrant workers, besides noting that economic growth alone is not enough to ensure equity, social progress and to eradicate poverty.

Nashef termed the Muscat seminar as a starting point towards ‘creating mechanisms of trilateral dialogue’ between production parties in the GCC countries which, she said, "will be rewarding in terms of improving the performance of the labour market and establishing sustainable socio-economic development in the region."

She said Oman’s experience in social and economic development was "exceptional and an example for others to follow as the Sultanate is always a leader in respecting and adopting international laws and standards, especially those in regard to labour."

Nashef said the decision by the Manpower Ministry to reform the labour law and give labourers the right to organise themselves within unions was a very positive example.

Othman Al Tuwaijri, Director-General of the Executive Council of GCC Ministers of Labour and Social Affairs, stressing the importance of the meeting, said its focus was on the application of international labour standards and their follow up in the GCC countries, as well as mechanisms to eliminate forced work and human trafficking.

"This seminar shows the region’s firm determination to create better social dialogue between parties of production," Tuwaijri further said, adding: "This will help find efficient representatives capable of defending the rights of each party and protect their interests which increases their ability to make a difference and have a stronger say in making applicable strategies and laws."

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