Dubai labourers stage rare strike for more pay

Thousands of Arabtec workers stay away from work in protest over low wages

(Photo for illustrative purposes only)

(Photo for illustrative purposes only)

Thousands of workers employed by Dubai's largest construction firm, Arabtec, stayed away from work on Sunday to back wage demands, a rare labour protest in the Gulf emirate, where trade unions are banned, staff said.

Most blue collar workers in the Gulf Arab states are migrant labourers hired on a contract basis from South Asian countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, and strikes are uncommon.

Migrant workers in Dubai are often employed at wages that are low by Western standards and housed in dormitory-style accommodation on the outskirts of the city, part of the United Arab Emirates, a regional business and tourism hub.

Two Arabtec employees who asked not to be identified said several thousand workers engaged on various projects did not report for duty on Sunday and stayed in their accommodation.

A sub-contractor confirmed the stoppage, saying he had to call back his workers from one Dubai work site after Arabtec labourers failed to show up on Sunday.

Asked for comment, an Arabtec spokesperson said: "We are working to resolve the situation as quickly as possible, alongside the Ministry of Labour and the Police Authority."

The UAE Labour Ministry told Reuters a team of the ministry's labour crisis management committee was "closely following the work stoppage by a number of Arabtec's workers".

The ministry added that Arabtec was paying the workers according to contracts it had signed with them, and said their accommodation was in compliance with labour regulations.

It said the labourers were receiving meals and had free transportation, housing and health insurance, services that it said were at least equal to their salaries.

The employees said the strike began on Saturday and that the workers were determined not to end it without a pay rise.

"They are upset at the low wages and also about not being paid for overtime work," one employee told Reuters. He said workers at his site were paid between $160 and $190 a month.

"The protest started in Abu Dhabi on Saturday and today (Sunday), workers in Dubai have also joined," he said.

Arabtec, the largest publicly-listed construction firm in the United Arab Emirates, was part of a consortium that won a $653m contract in January to build a branch of France's Louvre museum on Abu Dhabi's Saadiyat Island. It was not clear whether this project was affected by the protest.

Arabtec was among the contractors that built Dubai's palm-shaped island projects and the world's tallest tower, the Burj Khalifa.

Dubai's building boom stalled in 2009 after the global slowdown triggered a collapse in its real estate sector, with prices falling by over 50 percent from their peaks of 2008.

Construction has gradually picked up as developers have revived stalled projects and announced new ones including the world's biggest Ferris wheel and more than 100 luxury hotels.

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Posted by: Ty Say

As much as I love the UAE, this will be a problem for them in the future. Lets look at this from any democratic Country on Earth. If I decided not to turn into work one day, for what ever reason, even if I collaborated with fellow colleagues on the matter. There is no way the POLICE would be called and come and see me at my home! These guys were not protesting on site or causing any problems with the rest of society, they just stayed at home.

Come on Dubai, you are in some ways a shining example of what can be achieved in the Middle East. This is the one big problem that is still a major issue, change this and carry on leading by example.

Posted by: tony

Mirinda: Are you kidding me? You really wonder why the UN is quiet on this? Or why nobody says anything when things go wrong in Bahrain or in KSA, but immediately point fingers when it goes wrong in Iran or Syria????

Were you by any chance born yesterday?

Posted by: Hisham

Having said some of the things that I say every now and then, I feel obliged to add that I have nothing against the concept of immigration. Immigration can in fact be great, provided that the hosting culture is not deteriorated through it (which can in fact only happen when numbers of immigrants become extreme compared to non-immigrants), and provided that the hosting population benefits from it in each aspect of life without suffering from it. When both on the cultural level as from an economic point of view (extreme remittance figures which means funds do not circulate in the home economy, a whopping $14 billion in remittance leaks out of the UAE towards India yearly) a country has to compromise greatly, one should weigh the benefits against the risks, which in this case does not look very much in favour of some of the GCC countries...

Posted by: Ahsan

Hisham, I don't really know what the Indians have done to upset you so much, but I suggest, infact recommended you seek help.

Posted by: Hisham

Why does everybody here seem to think that integration is a matter for the government to sort out, while everyone in Western countries agrees that integration is a responsibility of the guest. It simply does not matter whether someone goes to live somewhere for 1 year of their entire lives, an inflow of outsiders should simply not harm or deteriorate a country's identity. @Telcoguy, obviously you've missed the entire point (again) as your focus seems to be off (again). It does not matter whether that 5% is paid by consumers or not, what matters is that when the goods you spoke of earlier come into the country 5% of their value flows into the government, which is then spent to pay wages that end up flowing into the economy. All (extreme) remittance does (though you're all talking about retirement we all know half of India would not eat without remittance, hence the recent visit to Saudi by an Indian official) is fuel a foreign economy at the expense of this one...

Posted by: AKW

The biggest problem is that 99.99% of these blue collar workers are hired by the middlemen who negotiate with them based upon their respective earning potential in their respective countries, for example, they will tell the labourer in India that they will get paid equal to Rs.30,000 per month which seems to be too good to them back home.

When they reach in Middle East, then they come to know that your salary is AED 800 - 1000, balance is in the form of living expanses, food, transportation, insurances etc. Though this comes as a shock to many but there is no way back, as they have taken huge loans to come to ME to get this job, so they continue to work.

I suggest that there should be some Cell which should educate them about the EXCHANGE RATE so that they know what is the potential of saving for them after all the expanses rather than absolute salary.

Here in West, Construction workers get paid min $15 per hour, works 40 hours a week.

Lets respect our human race!

Posted by: rohan kannai

Having seen how Lebanese and Jordanians treat their housemaids, I sure wouldn't want to be an Arabtec employee.
I am a Sri Lankan, and would prefer to work for a European or American only.

Posted by: Kuwaiti

Fadi, I don't think you are from Lebanon which is a beautiful country. But I have seen lot of cars with GCC number plate in Beirut. Probably your father owns one of that car.

Posted by: kingkaiser

Fadi, thanks for proving my point about the abhorrent attitude I was referring to.

I also happen to have obscenely successful friends of other ethnicities (as in mindblowingly successful, not people who are full of themselves because they got a job through connections and bought a BMW) who treat their staff quite well, and haven't had a single issue with pregnancies or underperformance. These people have the audacity to not only provide staff with phones and pay for phone cards, but also give them laptops (as well as one back home), voice services, paying for children's education, etc.

Perhaps if you treat people with dignity and give them some modicum of pride in their work, they'd work harder and more diligently (and wouldn't run away since they're treated as humans, not animals). What a concept...

Posted by: gidwani

I think if they protesting silently and peacefully, there is no role for police. Ministry of Labor officials are very well experienced in handling such issues.

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