Everyone under the Sun

Qatar

Economic News

22 Jul 2010
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Pressure to meet deadlines is forcing some contractors to ignore health and safety standards, according to recent reports in the Qatari press.



However, the introduction of a new labour law may signal an improvement in conditions for those working on the construction sites and improve work standards.



Summer working hours have meant additional headaches for Qatar's contractors. A directive by Qatar's Ministry of Civil Service Affairs and Housing introduced the summer work schedule, restricting construction workers' hours during the day, with no outdoors construction work carried out between 11.30 am and 3.00 pm.



It is, however, not uncommon to see construction continuing under the midday sun, with the local press carrying stories that some smaller contractors are openly flouting the regulations.



The smaller contracting firms accused are often struggling to finish their projects on time. They tend to be engaged in developing villa-housing projects, with construction on these generally taking around eight months. In order to be profitable, speed of construction is essential. Real estate development offers small companies large returns, but these can quickly be eroded by delays.



There are also obvious problems for contractors when much of the construction on a project has to be done after dark - and then possibly re-done after examination in the cold light of day.



At the same time, there is a pressing need for housing projects in Qatar. With an expanding population and the demolition of the older residential blocks in Doha, astronomical rent hikes have become commonplace - despite a decree by the Emir earlier in the year capping rent increases at 10%.



Like the rent hikes, the price of land and the cost of building materials have both increased substantially, impacting on contractors, while delays due to shortages and restrictions on workers only aggravate the situation.



Quite aside from the mega-projects being undertaken, the budget, announced by Minister of Finance Yousef bin Hussain Kamal in April, made provisions for increased public spending on the housing sector and paved the way for increased private investment. The budget allocated QR315m ($86.8m) to housing projects alone.



Some feel the authorities could also help speed things up by easing visa restrictions.



"Obtaining a visa for your workers takes far too long," one local contractor recently told OBG. "Sometimes you can be 30% into your contract period before you have anyone on site."



For others, however, the rapid pace of construction work has brought with it an unacceptable relaxing of regulations.



Two fires at the al-Nasr Twin Towers in the West Bay area and the deaths of a number of construction workers have helped to make people increasingly nervous about building standards.



Meanwhile, Qatar's proliferation of building projects continues to throw up issues not only of building safety but also of workers' rights. Local newspapers have recently reported small-scale industrial action by workers over working conditions.



However, a stricter and more comprehensive legal framework governing workers' rights has recently been put into place.



This week saw the introduction of a new labour law (Law No. 14) replacing the earlier 1962 labour law. The new regulation is expected to give greater protection to the rights of workers - both nationals and expatriates. The law constitutes a revolutionary move by Qatar, being the first time a country in the region has granted legal status to the formation of labour associations.



Despite their concerns, expatriate labourers still seem keen to come to Qatar. In its 2005-2006 results, Air India announced a 22% increase in carriage from India to Qatar. The Indian Embassy confirmed that currently around 172,000 Indian citizens are working in Qatar.



Including the larger construction projects, Qatar is currently in the midst of a $120bn construction boom. With the huge labour requirements created by this construction frenzy, the demand for workers from India and Nepal is extremely high.



Contractors also complain that bringing workers from a variety of countries and language groups to a site causes communication problems.



However, as with the summer work schedule, it is often a question not of the regulation itself but whether or not it will be observed. The new labour law is proof positive that Qatar has the regulations needed to keep its construction industry in check, but unless these regulations can be more strictly enforced, concerns over building standards and workers' rights will remain.

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