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Sun 24 Feb 2008 06:14 PM

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45 labourers jailed over violent protest

Dubai sends out warning to workers about demonstrating over pay and conditions.

A Dubai court sentenced 45 Indian construction workers to six months in jail followed by deportation for involvement in violent protests to demand pay increases, a court official said on Sunday.

Late in 2007, labourers closed down roads, assaulted police and overturned vehicles in one of several protests calling for better pay and living conditions.

The court found the labourers guilty of charges including holding illegal gatherings, vandalism and violating public security, the official told reporters.

The sentences can be appealed within two weeks.

Dubai, where labour unions are banned, has long faced criticism from human rights groups who say it turns a blind eye to cases of the non-payment of wages, lack of medical care and sub-standard housing for workers.

Construction workers in the booming Gulf trade hub, which is building the world's tallest tower and manmade islands, have long complained about poor working conditions.

The government has revised the labour law to include requirements that employers pay for migrant workers' travel, employment permits, medical tests and healthcare.

It has also closed down some workers' camps that do not meet health and safety standards in a crackdown on firms abusing foreign workers.

But in March, the New York-based watchdog Human Rights Watch said a UAE draft labour law fell far short of international standards for the rights of workers.

Some of the problems begin in the workers' home countries, where many illiterate labourers are recruited with false promises of good pay and sign contracts they cannot read.

Foreigners, from labourers to high-income executives, comprise more than 85% of the UAE's population of about 4.5 million.

Many cities in the Gulf region are growing as governments plough oil revenue windfalls into ambitious development and infrastructure projects that rely on guest workers, mainly from the Indian subcontinent. (Reuters)

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