Don’t deport UAE workers for striking

This 2012 video is called Slaves of Dubai.

From AFP news agency:

May 25, 2013

Rights group urges UAE not to deport strikers

Human Rights Watch on Saturday urged the United Arab Emirates not to deport migrant building workers for staging a rare strike to demand better pay and conditions.

“It would be scandalous if the UAE deported workers who have taken a courageous stand for their basic rights,” HRW Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson said in a statement.

The New York-based group cited media reports claiming authorities in the UAE had slapped deportation orders on 43 migrants who joined a strike by workers at the Arabtec construction giant.

Arabtec said on Wednesday that thousands of mainly Asian workers had ended a strike that began at the weekend.

“This strike is a stark reminder of the UAE’s failure to reform its exploitative labour system,” Whitson charged.

Strikes are banned in the UAE, where unions do not exist and the government does not stipulate a minimum wage.

Unskilled workers earn a monthly salary of no more than 900 dirhams (about $245, 190 euros).

The workers were demanding their 350 dirhams ($95) food allowance paid with their wages rather than the three daily meals provided by the company, English-language daily The National reported.

Arabtec said the strike was a result of “a minority group who will be held accountable for their actions”.

It said the issue had been “resolved amicably” with cooperation from the labour ministry, police and other official bodies.

But Whitson sharply criticised the government for its response to the industrial action.

“The UAE authorities should be investigating whether local employers have violated the law, not penalising poorly paid and unprotected workers,” she said.

HRW said that UAE authorities reportedly deported 70 migrant workers after a similar strike by Arabtec labourers in January 2011.

Arabtec is part of a consortium that built Dubai‘s landmark Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. It also has won a $654-million contract to build the Louvre Abu Dhabi art gallery, set to open in 2015.

Rights groups have repeatedly criticised the UAE and other Gulf countries for their treatment of millions of foreign workers, mostly Asians.

The watchdogs have particularly criticised the sponsorship system, still in force in most Gulf states, under which workers must be sponsored by their employers, likening the [system] to modern-day slavery.

UAE survey shows a third of expat women face sexism in the workplace: here.

Call for UN to investigate plight of migrant workers in the UAE: here.

UAE enacts compulsory military service: here.

26 thoughts on “Don’t deport UAE workers for striking

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  2. Foreign workers to leave UAE after pay strike

    “Hundreds of foreign workers at the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) biggest construction company are to return home, law enforcement officials say, after a pay dispute triggered a strike and threw a fresh spotlight on labour conditions in the Gulf,” according to the Financial Times .

    Most of the striking workers were from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Strikes are illegal in Dubai and across the Gulf.

    Last week, Dubai police chief, Dhahi Khalfan al-Tamim, said 200 workers would be repatriated in the wake of the strike, which was aimed at forcing Arabtec to pay the workers’ monthly Dh350 food allowance in cash rather than meals.

    The visas of over 460 Arabtec workers—who are paid between Dh650 and Dh1,200 ($176 and $327) a month—are to be cancelled after they opted to leave the UAE, according to a Dubai police official cited in the Abu Dhabi state-owned newspaper, The National.

    Ashraf, a scaffolding installer at Arabtec, told Al Jazeera Wednesday, after receiving a phone call from a coworker, “Between 20-25 people just got the [deportation] letter now… When we got the news of the [first] deportations [on Monday] everyone came down shouting. When the police came, we just went back to our rooms. People were trying to be part of the group without coming to the front,” he said.

    Arabtec, part-owned by the Abu Dhabi government, declined to answer questions from the Financial Times. The company said last week that all employees had returned to work after an “amicable solution” was found, although a “minority group” would be “held responsible for their actions.”

    A Human Rights Watch report published last year said that some Qatari construction workers were virtual forced labourers in bondage to their employers. Arabtec was among the companies that built the Burj Khalifa, currently the tallest building in the world.

    Dubai is an autonomous city and part of the UAE, a federation run by an unelected emir where the press is censored and public demonstrations are illegal.


  3. Bahraini construction workers’ strike ends

    Around 1,800 workers at GP Zachariades, a Cypriot construction firm in Bahrain, have ended a five-day strike over non-payment of wages for the last two months.

    GP Zachariades’s projects in Bahrain include the Ritz-Carlton and Movenpick Hotels, as well as the headquarters of the Ministry of Interior.

    According to the Gulf Daily News, “Bahrain’s Ministry of Labour said that an agreement was reached between the striking workers and officials during a meeting at staff accommodation in Sitra on Tuesday.”

    Company director Ahmed Al Haiki said that an agreement had been struck for GP Zachariades to pay employees’ one-and-a-half months salary of what they were owed, with the balance being paid in the coming days.

    GP Zacharides is the third major employer in the Gulf to suffer unrest among its workers, noted the Gulf Daily News, citing Arabtec and 1,000 staff at Kuwait’s Oil Sector Services.


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  21. UAE migrant workers die in fire

    Last week at least 10 migrant workers were killed and a similar number injured when a fire swept through their illegal accommodation. The fire is thought to have begun in a car repair shop and quickly spread to the two-storey warehouse where the migrant labourers were sleeping.

    The warehouse where the migrant labourers were illegally accommodated is in the al-Mussafah district of Abu Dhabi, an area on the outskirts of the capital populated with warehouses, factories and workshops.

    Migrant workers, many from South Asia, suffer many abuses including confiscation of passports, terrible living conditions and suffer injury and death on unsafe building sites. The warehouse had been illegally rented out to the labourers as living accommodation.


  22. Protest by UAE construction workers following death

    On April 11, construction workers at the Emirates National School construction site in Ras Al Khaimah reportedly rioted after a worker fell to his death from the fifth floor of the site. The press reported his death as suicide.

    According to media reports, the labourers’ anger led them to set fire to the site and to damage 17 cars on the site. Police crowd control units and fire fighters were called to the site to deal with the protest and blaze.


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