'Significant' issues remain for Saadiyat workers

Human Rights Watch says PwC monitoring report should serve as 'wake up call' for UAE
'Significant' issues remain for Saadiyat workers
Saadiyat Island
By Andy Sambidge
Sun 30 Sep 2012 05:47 PM

Significant challenges remain to meet minimum labour standards for workers on Abu Dhabi's $27bn Saadiyat Island project, a human rights group has said.

Reacting to a report by independent monitor PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), US-based Human Rights Watch said the concerns highlighted should serve as a "wake-up call" for UAE tourism chiefs.

It said the report underscores the need for companies involved in the Saadiyat Island project to ensure that their projects comply with international labour standards for migrant workers.

It quoted PwC as saying the government-owned developer of Saadiyat Island, the Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC), faces “significant challenges” to carry out agreed-upon minimum labour standards.

Saadiyat Island will be home to branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim Museums and a New York University campus, and has been the focus of criticism over migrant workers’ rights.

Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said: “The concerns raised in this report by the independent monitor it appointed should serve as a wake-up call to the UAE tourism agency and government, and should alarm the cultural and educational institutions involved with the island project.

“In an area where exploitation has been widespread, codes of conduct are not substitutes for good laws and meaningful enforcement.”

He said PwC interviewed 1,341 workers between June 2011 and May 2012 to assess the developer’s compliance with the Employment Practices Policy (EPP), a code the developer drew up in 2009 that was primarily based on UAE labour law.

The 34-page report detailed a range of ongoing violations of the EPP and domestic labour law.

It said that 75 percent of workers interviewed had paid recruitment fees and 77 percent had paid visa and travel costs, which are supposed to be paid by employers.

In terms of living conditions for workers, PwC verified worker complaints about poor sanitation conditions and faulty air conditioning at the Construction Village housing.

It also said there was a need to clarify what constitutes appropriate drinking water in summer months and the definition of "adequate sanitation facilities".

Quoting the report, PwC said: “TDIC faces significant challenges in implementing the EPP, operating against the backdrop of a complex construction sector in the Middle East Region with established practices and norms that are not necessarily all aligned with the EPP requirements.”

Sultan Al Mahmoud, TDIC’s executive director of strategic performance and chairman of the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility Committee, said last week that the PwC report demonstrated that “improvement on various levels related to working and living conditions have been achieved and sustained”.

He said in a statement published by news agency WAM that TDIC was committed to overcoming any challenges in order to "secure an internationally recognised standard of living for workers".

Human rights groups had previously accused Abu Dhabi authorities of turning a blind eye to the conditions workers, who mainly come from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and other South Asian countries.

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