Basic labour standards can improve E&C businesses and strengthen their migrant workforce, says study from The Ethical Recruitment Agency (TERA)

Between a global pandemic and fierce industry competition, many Engineering & Construction businesses are facing difficult decisions ahead that will deeply impact their migrant workforce. A research study from Seefar’s specialist recruiter The Ethical Recruitment Agency (TERA) lays out how companies can better support migrant workers while also improving their business outputs and productivity.

COVID-19 has disrupted businesses worldwide and the Engineering & Construction (E&C) sector has been particularly hard hit. Today, E&C companies of all sizes across the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are facing disrupted supply chains, liquidation and investment shortages, and an often idle or immobile workforce. 

These challenges affect companies and their workforce alike. Low-skilled migrant workers from South Asia experience challenging welfare conditions even in the best of times. As E&C companies face unparalleled pressure to reduce costs, some view migrant workers as a source of savings – for example, by passing along labour recruitment costs to workers.

Seefar is responding to these challenges through The Ethical Recruitment Agency (TERA), our specialist recruitment subsidiary with a mission to help people benefit from migration while staying safe from exploitation.

TERA’s study on “Profitable Ethical Recruitment” aims to support a diverse range of stakeholders working with the private sector to strengthen labour standards and promote ethical recruitment. Prepared with support from the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) and the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery (GFEMS), the study draws on interviews with industry experts, current research, and emerging data to examine how E&C businesses can strengthen their bottom lines while also improving employee welfare.

The research finds that trends in the E&C business landscape are accelerating the need for change among small and medium construction firms (SMCs). From the United Arab Emirates to Saudi Arabia, new labour laws are eroding the employer-sponsored visa, guaranteeing worker wages and increasing penalties for noncompliance.

According to industry insiders, businesses that carry on as usual by passing costs onto workers, ignoring labour laws and disregarding new technology are sacrificing their long-term competitiveness. 

But for agile businesses, these dynamics offer new opportunities. TERA’s research identified clear steps that businesses can take to not only survive these changes but also grow their business. The study’s recommendations include recruiting migrant workers professionally and ethically. Using professional recruiters gives companies a more productive workforce and stands out to prime contractors that are scrutinising their supply chains. The recommendations and other key findings are summarised in a two-page pull-out for SMCs that reviews the practical steps they can take. TERA has also launched an online tool that models corporate investments and gains.The study concludes that businesses that invest in change will pull further away from those that do not. Investing in better recruitment, labour standards, and technology will improve business outputs and productivity while also supporting migrant workers. While industry challenges are daunting, with the right kind of support even the smallest contractors can remain competitive

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