This blog's aim & rationale: to disseminate information.
Additional posts at: In the News

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

New Labour Law

Public invited to post online comments about revised UAE labour law, Gulf News (6-Feb-07).

This is good news and should result in a significant step forward to improve conditions for all workers in the UAE, and especially construction labourers who are among the most poorly compensated with respect to their level of service and the extent of their contribution to society.

A key aspect of this introduction of a new law is the public's opportunity to contribute to its formation. As of 6 February, the public may review the draft law online and submit comments.While probably a document best understood and interpreted by legal experts, the public should nonetheless benefit from the opportunity to view and participate in any finalization of the draft.

Return to this page for further commentary.

See most recent post or go to In the News.

Friday, December 15, 2006

View from Abroad & the Simple Reality Here

full article
Brian Ross: We were at camps this week that are described as pretty good, and they're quite squalid.
Dr. Anwar Gargash: Okay.
Brian Ross: 8, 12 men in a room, working 12 hour days.
Dr. Anwar Gargash: Okay.
Brian Ross: Is Dubai proud of that?
Dr. Anwar Gargash: No, of course not.
Brian Ross: Then why do you allow it to continue?
They [workers] told us they were deeply in debt because they were forced to pay recruiters in their home countries large fees to get their jobs in Dubai, something that is supposed to be illegal. And once here, they said, they found they would be making only half the wages they had been promised.
Workers: 600, 600 dirhams, about $163 dollars, a month. On average, less than a dollar an hour.
And even that, Human Rights Watch found, is routinely withheld months at a time.
Sarah Leah: It's considered a way to make sure your worker doesn't run away so you kind of owe him money to keep him on a short leash.
The work in Dubai goes on day and night, usually two, twelve hour shifts, six days a week. A pace Human Rights Watch says has led to a huge death toll.
Hadi Ghaemi: Hundreds are dying, especially falling from these high rises every year.
Brian Ross: You are saying hundreds are dying?
Hadi Ghaemi: Hundreds are dying.
And under the law in Dubai and the entire United Arab Emirates, there are no unions allowed, strikes are illegal, strikers can be fired and sent home.
Sarah Leah: So you basically, you better shut up and do your work and not complain.
See a brief portion of the video on You Tube.


For those who missed the 17 November 2006 20/20 broadcast, this article provides a glimpse. Some in the UAE react defensively to accusations that the government of the UAE is responsible for the mistreatment of workers. The common rebuttal is to point to the use of illegal labor in Western countries and the charge that in days gone by, the industrialized countries were also built on cheap labor and other exploits.

The UAE government spokesman in the interview was, however, much more contrite:
Dr. Anwar Gargash: I think we have problem. I think we have a problem.
Brian Ross: You admit it.
Dr. Anwar Gargash: I think we have a problem, but it's not like we're not doing anything about it.
Unfortunately, the ABC journalist seemed too ready to take take the spokesman at his word, concluding:
In fact, just days after we left Dubai, the royal public relations machine was in high-gear, announcing new efforts to enforce labor laws and improve conditions at labor camps. At long last Dubai's impoverished workers may finally be getting the same attention as the Sheikh's skyscrapers and famed racehorses.
The reality, even as the HRW report points out, is that there have not only been positive words from the government in the past, but laws and edicts to back up these words. Yet, in practice, the exploitation has continued.

Not So Unusual

Regarding the harsh conditions highlighted in the television broadcast, interestingly 8-12 men in a room, passports being withheld and risk of deportation for complaining or misbehavior do not raise eyebrows in the UAE. As one of the speakers alluded to, such is part of the norm for many here, not just laborers. That is why the squalid camp visited by the ABC news crew had been described to them as one of the better ones.

In fact the boomtown luxury apartments and villas rising and sprouting across the cityscape will provide homes for very few of the 1 million expatriates who already inhabit Dubai. They are mainly intended to house the managerial classes--though rising in numbers, still a minute segment of the population--and an influx of upper middle class and wealthy individuals from abroad who seek to acquire vacation, retirement and investment properties.

What most disturbs those expatriates who are not of the labor class and the more sensitized UAE nationals are the extremes that many workers face. It is not only 8-12 men in a room but that number commonly goes up to 20, with up to 1000 or more in a single camp. Few would blink on hearing that salaries are withheld for a month or two, but it sometimes stretches to 5 or 6 months, and more, while the companies these men work for enjoy record earnings due to the abundance of projects needing contractors to whom developers have no choice but to pay the asking fee.

What also angers the workers themselves is the fact that they have to spend hours commuting to their worksites. Company buses transport them with 5 a.m. pick-ups and 7 p.m. returns to camp. They are not provided food or shade at the worksites. Either no meals are provided for them when they return late to their camps or, when they are, up to one-quarter of their meager salary is cut to pay for them--and the food is of a quality that most men would prefer to struggle to prepare their own.

Furthermore, they are punished for missing any day of work by having their wages docked in double or triple for the hours missed. To receive sick leave they have to pay for a doctor visit at their own expense for which the visit, medicines and transport could easily cost up to a week's wages. It is these and countless other burdens that make the laborers' lives miserable. It is why they quickly find themselves in a debt trap.

They are not so much asking for college dorms, shorter work hours or even higher pay, as much as the opportunity to receive a fixed salary and a basic sustenance of food and water, toilet and bathing facilities and a little respect. With that, they are content to work long six to seven day weeks and send all their earnings to families in their home countries.

Two workers in Dubai Marina pose for a photo. (8-Dec-06)

See most recent post or go to In the News.