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Sat 4 Jun 2011 11:20 AM

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More needed to protect Saadiyat workers, HRW says

US-based Human Rights Watch welcomes appointment of monitor but calls for more protection

More needed to protect Saadiyat workers, HRW says
Saadiyat Island
More needed to protect Saadiyat workers, HRW says
A computer generated image of the Louvre, Abu Dhabi
More needed to protect Saadiyat workers, HRW says
Guggenheim Abu Dhabi

An Abu Dhabi state-owned company's appointment of an independent auditor to monitor conditions for workers building the Saadiyat Island cultural project is a positive step, US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Saturday.

But it added that the Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC), which appointed PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) on May 31, needed to take "additional steps" to protect migrant workers' rights on the project, which will include branches of the Guggenheim and Louvre museums.

HRW said these should include setting publicly-announced penalties for contractors that violate standards, and putting into effect remedies for workers whose rights are violated, including a direct promise to reimburse workers found to have paid recruiting fees.

"By recognising the need for independent monitoring, the development company has set an example that development projects throughout the region should follow," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

"But monitoring alone won't help workers when contractors trample on their rights. TDIC needs to be clear about how it will punish violators, and compensate the workers."

Human Rights Watch also called on TDIC to use the new monitor to audit labour conditions on all of its Abu Dhabi projects.

All UAE contractors employing migrant construction workers should appoint such third-party independent monitors to monitor labor compliance, it added.

TDIC said in its announcement that the monitor will interview workers in their own languages, conduct random spot checks, and publish "comprehensive" findings in annual reports available to the public.

TDIC should release comprehensive information about the terms of reference and monitoring methodology, to ensure the firm's independence in auditing and reporting, Human Rights Watch said in a statement on its website.

While welcoming the move to appoint PwC, HRW said TDIC had not specified enforcement mechanisms "beyond vague references in its announcement to financial penalties and possible contract termination for violating contractors".

HRW asked the company in February for specifics about penalties, and whether they have been put into operation for the Saadiyat Island site, but has received no additional information from the company, it added.

"If TDIC is serious about its promise, it should put its money where its mouth is and guarantee to reimburse workers forced to pay illegal fees," Whitson said.

An international coalition of artists announced on June 2 that their boycott of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi site would remain in place as they awaited further details of the independent monitoring agreement, as well as information about enforcement mechanisms.

They said they had particular concern about enforcing the development company's promise that contractors would reimburse workers for any fees they had paid to obtain their jobs.

Abu Dhabi is converting Saadiyat Island into an international tourist destination, at a cost of $27bn.

The island will have four museums and a performing arts centre designed by world-renowned architectural firms as well as a New York University campus, golf courses, hotels, and luxury residences.

Human Rights Watch said on numerous visits it has documented how workers on Saadiyat Island often pay heavy recruitment fees in their home countries to get jobs in the UAE.

Although TDIC pledged that contractors will reimburse workers who have paid such fees in their home countries, HRW said it has not specified any remedy for the workers if the employers fail to reimburse them.

New York-based HRW said in a 2009 report that featured interviews with 94 labourers on Saadiyat Island, that each said he had paid between $1,800 and $4,100 in recruitment fees prior to securing his job.

The practice is outlawed in the UAE, as it places workers in significant debt before they begin work that can take years to repay.

Last year, 14 workers on the island went on strike after claiming they had not been paid for five months by a subcontractor.

HRW added that the UAE, as a member state of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), is obligated to promote and protect core labour rights.

"If TDIC wants to protect workers' human rights, then conditions on Saadiyat have to be measured with an international yardstick," Whitson said. "TDIC's internal policies and UAE labour law neglect important international protections, like workers' rights to organise and bargain collectively."

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Abicatiempo 8 years ago

It will be a miracle if the Abu Dhabi authority will recognize workers' rights to organize and bargain collectively... laborers are dispensable not like the investors

Nokia 8 years ago

It would be a joke to allow workers to organize and bargain collectively. I have never heard any place in the world that allows non-citizen workers the right to organize and represent themselves in a union. In fact, the right to congregate and organize is solely reserved for citizens of a country, not expatriates within it.

Do you know why this is the case?

Because if an expatriate does not like the package he is offered, he can always go back to where he came from.

So therefore, the real miracle would be when workers realize that they are here because it really is better than where they came from, and that the day it stops being better is the day they head back.

An even bigger miracle, however, is when expats who make over 30k + free housing + free car + top notch med insurance + 2 tickets per year would just stop feeling bad about the conditions work in. If the labourers did not want to come here, they wouldn't have sold their lands/borrowed money to come here.

Ikea 8 years ago

Have you ever heard of the term 'miguided' or 'misled'? Guess not. Most of these workers are tricked into coming here by brokers and then end up living here in inhumane conditions. Also think you need to understand the meaning of 'Miracle'.It cannot be used for an existing condition!