1,500 involved in shocking Sharjah riot

UPDATE 2: Workers set damage and fire to offices and vehicles, attack police and labour officials.
By Elsayed Elazony and Dylan Bowman
Tue 18 Mar 2008 04:33 PM

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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