1,500 involved in shocking Sharjah riot

UPDATE 2: Workers set damage and fire to offices and vehicles, attack police and labour officials.

Around 1,500 workers were involved in the riot that rocked Sharjah on Tuesday, during which they damaged and set fire to property and vehicles.

Workers set fire to management offices within their labour camp and smashed windows, state news agency Wam reported late on Tuesday.

Workers also burnt down five cars, damaged 40 others and stoned 28 buses, before turning their anger on police officers and labour officials at the scene, Wam said, quoting Sharjah police Director General Brigadier Humaid Mohammed Al Hudaidi.

One eyewitness claimed up to 40 buses and eight cars had been destroyed, some of which had been set on fire.

"It looked like a scene out of Iraq," the eyewitness said.

Al Hudaidi said the riot endangered the lives of 20 employees.

Sharjah Police were forced to call in an anti-riot squad to quell the unrest, closing off roads leading to the area in the Al Sajaa district.

Al Hudaidi said authorities would not tolerate this kind of behaviour.

"Authorities will not allow breaking of regulations, because there are legitimate procedures to submit claims to competent authorities to find solutions for disputes," he said, quoted Wam.

Al Hudaidi called on workers not to resort to violence and subversion, urging them to settle disputes based on legal demands through coordination with the Ministry of Labour and other authorities.

Al Hudaidi said an investigation was underway to identify the perpetrators and assess the damage.

The workers are employees of engineering contractor Drake & Scull.

A spokesperson for the company told ArabianBusiness.com on Tuesday that 30 "instigators" had been arrested by police.

Three busloads of workers were seen being escorted away by police by ArabianBusiness.com.

A total of 2,000 labourers live in the camp, the spokesperson said.

Workers told an ArabianBusiness.com source that the protest was the result of unpaid wages.

Drake & Scull denied this. The spokesperson said some workers were unhappy about a minimum 10% pay rise announced for employees on Monday.

Some workers felt the pay rise did not make up for the falling value of the UAE dirham against the Indian rupee, the spokesperson said.

Drake & Scull would not comment on how much the company pays workers, but maintained it was above average.

The unrest is the latest in a string of protests by construction workers in the UAE and across the Gulf over pay.

The falling value of the US dollar, to which the UAE and other Gulf states peg their currencies, has seen the relative value of workers' salaries nosedive over the last year. The rupee appreciated more than 12% against the dollar in 2007.

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Posted by: T.D.A

Hello, I am an American Convert to Islam of 10 years and I have to tell you, the rights and treatment of people of low economic status is horrific in this region. The messenger, may Allah forever send salutations and peace upon him, was such a different person than what I've seen since traveling to Dubai and living in KSA. Many of the people in KSA have kindness, but in general, the housemaids, cleaners, street sweepers, etc, are treated like dirt, yet we Americans and Westerners are treated like kings. Abasa wa ta walla an jaa a hul a'maa. These laborers are the people of deen for the most part. They are people that believe the lands they are going to are holy, yet how many of them are abused at the hands of their brothers and sisters. Conversely, most of us from the West come to the Gulf to only take financial gains and benefit from our tax free status without having much desire to give back to the people or benefit by learning the culture and appreciating it. It's sad that those that love you are slapped while those that hate you are beloved in your hearts. May Allah awaken our giant brethren of the Arab, those whom Allah selected to send a beloved Nabi to and by the permission of Allah used to turn the worst people to the best people and the worst of times to the best of times. May Allah illuminate our hearts and help the oppressor and the oppressed by removing oppression and strife and returning us to humility and love. When Sayyidina Umar walked into Rome he was carrying the rope of his camel while his servant was riding. They used to switch back and forth, from riding, sometime Umar, sometimes his servant. These impeccable manners were so astounding, that the people did know who was Umar and who was the servant.

Posted by: frankie

These workers work incredibly hard, and in often horrific conditions - for a pittance. Obviously the workers have tried all the official channels to get a better deal but without any success. Why do Emirati's get a huge pay increase & overseas workers get almost nothing? Dubai can afford to give these people better conditions.

Posted by: PMS

I would like to start by saying I am against all violence in any form and I strongly condemn what happened in Sharjah. Having said that I feel that some of the commentators fail to understand the real issues. Most laborers from India are victims of misinformation and exploitation by the nexus of employers in the gulf and the labour "agents" back home. I met a young man , hardly 20 years old who had paid such an agent Indian Rs. 1,50,000/- to be considered for a job as sweeper in a mall. He told me his salary was Dhs. 500/- though he had been promised a lot more in India. 200 Dhs. were spent on his food, 25 dhs. on personal needs like toiletries, hair cut etc. Dhs. 200 he sent home and saved 75 Dhs. per month At the exchange rate of Rs. 11 per dirham he will need FIFTEEN years just to recover his investment in coming here. If you add to that the simple fact that the cost of living in Dubai has gone up and the Dirham has depreciated against the rupee you see the magnitude of the problem. If on top of that workers have inhuman living conditions are you surprised they riot ? I am NOT condoning violence I am just explaining the cause of it. No point in conspiracy theories of Indian political parties being behind this. The poor laborers can contribute nothing to their party funds and so they will not be bothered. For the labour officials to say there are channels for lodging complaints is all fine but they really have no clue at how difficult it is for any one to approach the government agencies for justice. I once met a group of laborers who had not been paid their salary for 6 months and who wanted to lodge a complaint with the labor department. But the poor souls neither had their labor card ( company never gave it to them ) , their passport or visa copy ( company retained it ) or even the 10 dirhams that a typing shop asked of them to prepare their complaint in Arabic. Where are the so called labor inspectors ? I remember reading that there was an acute shortage of them as many had resigned. As far as I know there is a serious shortage of inspectors and this is one major reason why workers still suffer in horrible conditions. And where is the PRESS , who are supposed to be the champions for justice ? I must have written at least 25 letters on this very issue but the papers never publish them. We hear often in the press of protesting workers being deported but never about any builders who have broken laws being jailed. Why ? We read about the rampage by some workers but never any in-depth investigation of the causes that led to it. For the press or the authorities to just blame it on "instigators" is too simplistic an approach and seems more like and effort to avoid responsibility than a serious attempt to resolve the problem. Some how Raphael Nadal going up a lift to the top of Burj Dubai merits more attention than the plight of the workers who built the tower. I am not a muslim but I have been told that the Prophet ( PBUH ) has said in the hadith ( right spelling ? ) that a worker must be paid his wages " before the sweat on his brow dries up". What an amazing concept of fairness and justice ! But here we regularly read of protesting workers who did not get their salaries for months on end and the labor officials claiming the problem was solved when the employer "promised to pay " . But there is no follow up in the press if the workers did indeed get their pay as promised. And there are NEVER any reports of any serious action being taken against the erring employers. All they seem to get are warnings. As an educated and reasonably well to do person I have extreme difficulty sometimes dealing with the authorities to get even the basics of justice ( I've had lots of problems with my land lord who cut off water and electricity in an effort to illegally evict us ) so how can one expect an individual uneducated impoverished laborer who may be only speaks the dialect of his village and does not even have 10 Dhs. in his pocket to go and fight for justice ? Prices of property in Dubai and Sharjah have gone up by more than 100% in the last year or so. Have the laborers salaries gone up by even 20% to offset the plunging value of the US $ ? Why are speculators from around the world encouraged and invited to invest and make millions out of the property boom here and the people who actually CREATE this wealth with their bare hands denied any share of that pie ? Finally - for all its claims to want to build a just and international community why does the UAE government not pass a law on minimum wage for unskilled workers and why does it not allow the formation of labor unions so that the workers have a legitimate voice ? The people of the Indian subcontinent are not by nature violent. They suffer in silence until it becomes unbearable. I would like to urge the Authorities to think deeply about this issue and come up with fair , just and long lasting solutions.

Posted by: Muzammil

Gulf countries have always given bad deals to their expatriate labor population and saying, if you don?t like it, ?go home? is a childish response. Look at Human history, this issue is about fundamental human rights/dignity. Which the UAE/GCC has good on paper, but is enforcing loosely because it?s in their own economic best interest to do so. Have they forgotten, what happens when labour stops working on masse! If tomorrow Dubai Airport staff, decide to mobilize and strike what will happen?

Posted by: jf

All this recent rioting, strikes and acts of violent and non-violent civil disobedience around the Gulf has got nothing to do with actual conditions of the workers in the camps or their salaries. These conditions have always been more or less pathetic but the workers never "woke up" one day and resorted to such measures in the past. The key word used here is "instigators". I wouldn't be surprised if the authorities discover that the arrested instigators have very strong political affiliations to extreme right wing parties back in India such as the BJP, VHP, RSS or the Bajrang Dal. I believe that these instigators have been deliberately "planted" as foreign workers in the Gulf to shake some very deep rooted foundations here. Its not a matter of struggling for better pay or better conditions, its about testing the waters. These little riots are just a way of finding out how much you can push these newly "liberalized" governments. The fact that its happening in Bahrain and in the UAE simultaneously is definitely not a coincidence. Watch out for some more of these "sleeper cells" to jump into action in Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman, etc. I hate to sound like a conspiracy theorist but something tells me that this is all a part of larger plan, not to kill the giant, but just to push him enough to make him sway. He will eventaully fall and kill himself.

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