Fair Labour Practices And Migrant Workers

Promoting Fair Labour Standards

BESIX Group has been present in the Middle East since 1965 through its subsidiary Six Construct. Based in the United Arab Emirates, the company has actively contributed to the development of the Arabian Peninsula.

It has built emblematic buildings including the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest tower, infrastructures such as bridges, tunnels and airports, marine and port infrastructures, water and waste treatment units as well as sports and leisure facilities. An overview of some of our achievements in the Middle East is available here.

BESIX Group currently employs 8,000 workers in the Middle East. The majority of them are migrant workers, mainly from India, Bangladesh and Nepal. They are active on all major construction projects carried out by BESIX Group.

The average seniority of these migrant workers within the group is 9 years. More than 35% of them have been with the group for more than 10 years.

The internal policies of BESIX Group regarding the respect of migrant workers' rights are subject to extremely clear and strict rules and meet the highest norms and standards in this field.

Examples include :
• Migrant workers are employed and paid by Six Construct, not by intermediaries. The company covers their complete health insurance;
• Six Construct provides migrant workers with quality and comfortable accommodation, including religious, cultural and dietary facilities for each of the communities represented;
• Six Construct has established transparent mechanisms for the appointment of employee representatives. These are elected and have regular meetings with management;
• Migrant workers have access to relevant information in a language they know;
• Migrant workers are always paid on time and their wages are in line with national and international standards;
• Six Construct does not withhold passports or personal documents against the will of the workers;
• Six Construct does not work with recruitment agencies that charge retroactive payments or recruitment fees to migrant workers;
• The safety record of Six Construct on construction sites is one of the best in the region;
Working hours are adapted to the seasons. For example, in the Middle East, work is interrupted for several hours during the day, up to 5.5 hours between 10.00 and 15.30 during June, July and August.

BESIX Group and Six Construct do not only focus on their own practices:
• The group requires its subcontractors to provide documentation demonstrating that they meet high standards in various areas, including living conditions and recruitment processes.

In this way, in good cooperation with the local authorities, BESIX Group aims to contribute to improving the practices of the other companies with which it collaborates in the region and to be a driving force for change and improvement.

BESIX Group collaborates actively and transparently with national and international institutions and organisations to guarantee and promote the rights of migrant workers.

• In December 2017, BESIX Group signed an international framework agreement with the Building and Wood Workers' International (BWI) and the BESIX European Works Council (EWC). BWI is an international federation of 351 trade unions from 127 countries, including European countries, representing about 12 million workers. An EWC is a body of workers' representatives of a company operating on a European scale, in this case BESIX Group.

• The agreement on the respect of international standards and human rights conventions aims to promote the well-being of people working for BESIX Group, its subsidiaries and partners, wherever they are in the world. This includes the establishment of an independent monitoring mechanism for human rights practices. In this context, BWI has free access to construction sites and accommodations for migrant workers.

• In recent years, BWI and the BESIX EWC have carried out several such missions in Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco.

• BESIX Group regularly collaborates with non-governmental organisations. For example, in its report on 'Human Rights of Migrant Workers' published in January 2019, the UK-based NGO Business & Human Rights Resource Centre presented BESIX as one of the best practice companies in the Middle East in this area.

• Through Six Construct, BESIX Group actively collaborates with local authorities. This was the case, for example, with the Emirati authorities during the construction of the infrastructure for the Dubai World Expo and with the Qatari authorities, with whom the group collaborated continuously during the work on the World Cup sports facilities between 2012 and 2019. Both authorities have frequently assessed the working and living conditions of migrant workers on their national territory.

In recent years, several prominent personalities from international organisations and institutions have publicly cited BESIX Group or Six Construct as references in promoting worker welfare in the Middle East.

Examples include:

• On 5 December 2017, during a session of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Flemish Parliament, the Chairman of the Governing Body of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Luc Cortebeeck, highlighted the differences in working conditions for migrant workers in Qatar from one company to another, stating that BESIX's practices were among the best in this area. He repeated similar comments in the press, notably in the Belgian magazine Trends on 22 April 2021;:

• The director of Amnesty International Belgium also presented BESIX as an example to follow in terms of respect for workers' rights. This was the case on 27 September 2019 during a prime-time programme broadcast on Bel RTL, a French-language radio station with a large audience: "(...) BESIX has taken a number of steps and is leading by example. Today they are leading the way on what you can do as an employer to guarantee a sufficient quality of work for the people who work for you. This is an example to follow (...)"; The same personality repeated similar comments in 2021 on the television channels BX1 (30 March 2021) and LN24 (12 April 2021).:

• In addition to the reports from his institution, the General Secretary of the Building and Wood Workers' International (BWI), Ambet Yuson, has also spoken out in the press on several occasions. For example, in the Standaard of 27 March 2021, one of Belgium's leading daily newspapers, he explained that BESIX Group applies standards in Middle East that are “as good” as those in Western Europe and has contributed to improving the safety conditions of workers on construction sites.

BESIX Group maintains one of thebest safety records on its construction sites in the Middle East. The safety record there is, if not better, at least similar to that of the group's other locations around the world, including Europe. Most of the group's sites often reach several million working hours without a lost time accident.

In this area, BESIX Group takes many additional measures to contribute to first-class working conditions. For example, working hours are of course adapted seasonally, especially during the warmer months (no work between 10:00 and 15:30), and facilities and infrastructure are in place to maintain quality working conditions.

• Safety Time Out
One of BESIX Group's initiatives is the organisation of 'Safety Time Out' events. These include the interruption of all of the Group's construction sites worldwide for several hours for awareness and training sessions. Employees are invited to interact, discuss and identify opportunities and actions for improvement to ensure that safety is always the number one priority in the workplace.

medium-Al Janoub Stadium 057 Migrant workers are working on all of BESIX Group's major construction sites in the Middle East. This was the case for the sports facilities for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, from 2014 to 2019, and for the infrastructure and pavilions for the World Expo 2020 in Dubai.

medium-French Pavilion 5 • World Expo 2020, Dubai
Six Construct carried out all of the infrastructure for the 2020 World Expo site in Dubai and built the French and Belgian national pavilions.

Dubai has decided to make this global event an example of respect for migrant workers by imposing unprecedented standards on companies operating in the country. For example, throughout 2019, it conducted quarterly audits of all companies operating on the exhibition site and the accommodation of their workers. BESIX has regularly been at the top of the podium.

medium-Al Janoub Stadium 069 • FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022
In preparation for the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar, Six Construct renovated an existing stadium and built a new one. These projects were completed in 2019.

These two construction sites had a total of three fatal accidents. These included two migrant workers and one non-migrant worker, two of whom worked for subcontractors. However, the company never evaded responsibility. These accidents on site were examined by the competent national authorities and by the company's own departments. In addition, Six Construct has always been open to providing additional information on this subject, in a transparent manner, to interested external institutions.

BESIX Foundation has created the Right 2 Learn programme. This initiative includes computer and English language training for the group's migrant workers in the Middle East.

Right2Learn Dubai 48 • The computer training allows them to be in contact with their respective families without spending large amounts of money on phone calls and to learn how to surf the internet. Since 2017, migrant workers have had access to computers and smartphones so that they can call their relatives for free, transfer photos and send emails.

English language courses are organised in collaboration with the Smart Life Foundation. They aim to enable migrant workers to understand and communicate in English.

In both cases, the demand is huge and hundreds of workers have already benefited from these courses.

Conclusion

Excellence is at the heart of BESIX Group's purpose. This goal of excellence is operational, but also human. In this area, the company’s commitment to human rights, and in particular to the working and living standards of migrant workers, is clear: by constantly improving its practices and requiring its partners and suppliers to adopt practices similar to its own, BESIX wants to be an agent of change. The company has been demonstrating this for several years: it works.


Download here our infographic summarizing our commitments

Download here the complete text of our international framework agreement on fair labour standards

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