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Sat 10 Nov 2007 04:00 AM

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Pledge that needs enforcement

It's been just over a year-and-a-half since the largest strike to have hit the UAE made world headlines.

It's been just over a year-and-a-half since the largest strike to have hit the UAE made world headlines.

An estimated 8,500 workers employed by Besix held a coordinated protest that lasted almost a week, bringing work on 17 major projects - including the Burj Dubai and Garhoud Bridge - to a complete standstill.

The strike ended with around 50 men branded as ‘ringleaders' being deported, while the rest had little choice but to return to work.

More than 18 months on, and the unrest that has been rumbling beneath the surface has re-emerged. The gripe is the same: workers want better pay.

The difference is the situation is now compounded by the slump in value of dollar-pegged currencies and the escalating cost of living.

In the last few weeks, there have been a number of strikes. Some have been large, some have been small and some, in parts, have been violent. Again, the workers have been shrewd enough to target a project that would attract global attention - the tallest tower in the world.

It may simply have been coincidental that the strike at the Burj Dubai, this time by Arabtec workers, also happened in the same week senior journalists from The Times were in the emirate as part of a well-publicised business forum.

With little sign of the agitation abating, the crucial question is how to finally meet the workers' demands, particularly with the small matter of a city needing to be built.

The pledge by the Ministry of Labour to increase salaries is a move in the right direction. But implementing a minimum wage may not be the answer.

What could work is a system whereby labourers are paid more in line with productivity, are given bonuses and are trained.

Holiday pay, sick pay, guaranteed health insurance, a flight home a year, clean and safe living conditions, regular meals, freedom to move jobs with ease and being treated with dignity would also ensure spirits aren't broken.

Such basics - in the wider scheme of things - are little to ask for.

Let's hope the pledge translates into strict enforcement. Otherwise the only thing stopping the strikes will be the absence of workers starting them.

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