TDIC refutes new claims over Saadiyat Island worker abuses

Tourism Development and Investment Company says report by Human Right Watch is 'outdated'
TDIC refutes new claims over Saadiyat Island worker abuses
A cameraman takes footages of the Louvre museum that is still under construction in Abu Dhabi. (AFP/Getty Images)
By Staff writer
Tue 10 Feb 2015 01:36 PM

Abu Dhabi's master tourism developer on Tuesday said it rejected claims made by a human rights group related to conditions for workers employed on high-profile projects such as the Louvre and Guggenheim museums and a campus of New York University (NYU) being built on Saadiyat Island.

Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC) said claims by Human Rights Watch that serious concerns about workers’ rights have not been resolved were "outdated and based on unknown methodologies".

An 82-page report claimed that some employers are still withholding workers’ wages and benefits, failing to reimburse them for recruiting fees, confiscating workers’ passports, and housing them in substandard accommodations.

“The progress in respecting workers’ rights on Saadiyat Island risks being tossed out the window if workers know they can’t protest when things go wrong, and are still getting stuck with recruitment fees and suffering other abuses,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director.

“NYU, the Louvre, and the Guggenheim need to make clear that new laws and codes of conduct are only as good as their enforcement.”

The report said that while the abuses concern a small percentage of the workers, the serious problems reveal a gap in enforcement of the UAE development partners’ stated commitments.

But in a statement carried by news agency WAM, TDIC hit back at the report saying: "TDIC rejects the report’s unfounded conclusions, which are outdated and based on unknown methodologies, even as TDIC has been transparent in its efforts.

"TDIC is the primary developer for Saadiyat and is constructing a cultural district comprising the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, the Louvre Abu Dhabi and the Zayed National Museum. In building such landmark projects, TDIC has endeavoured to ensure that working conditions and practices on Saadiyat meet international standards and comply with UAE labour law.

"The company has established a comprehensive Employment Practices Policy, EPP, outlining the standards required from the companies working on our projects, and laying out penalties for those found to be in breach of any aspect. It has also established the Saadiyat Accommodation Village, a housing facility in which all TDIC contractors and subcontractors must be housed.

"Many groups, including British Members of Parliament, museum partners, senior foreign diplomats and numerous others, have toured Saadiyat’s construction sites and worker housing facilities and have praised both the quality of the conditions and the standard provided."

TDIC added that it has retained international auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers to independently monitor the works on Saadiyat throughout the year and release its findings to the public at the end of every year.

"These findings have helped TDIC spot issues and make modifications where needed. The company has also taken action whenever there is a credible complaint, including evicting contractors who have flouted the EPP," the statement said.

It added: "The latest PwC monitoring report, released in December 2014, was based on direct interviews with 1,050 workers, far from the anecdotal examples provided by HRW. In contrast, PwC noted significant achievements, including 100 percent of workers have access to their passport, high standard of accommodation, including the provision of food, cleaning and daily laundry services, the provision of medical insurance to 99 percent of workers, a well-established grievance procedure for workers and ease of lodging complaints, and an enforced system of penalties against contractors who breach TDIC’s employment policies."

TDIC said it is committed to making sure that high standards of worker welfare continue to be implemented on all of its work sites.

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