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Wed 2 Sep 2009 06:04 AM

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Work harder for pay rise, Dubai labourers told

Al Habtoor chief says wage rise opportunity exists, linked to increase in productivity.

Construction workers who protested against low wages in Dubai on Monday have been told by bosses that they need to increase their productivity if they want to earn more money.

The striking labourers agreed to return to work after holding further discussions with management at construction giant Al Habtoor Engineering on Tuesday, its managing director David Savage told Arabian Business.

Half the workers on the Dubai construction sites that were affected by Monday’s protests did not show up for work on Tuesday, Savage added.

“I wouldn’t call it a strike. They were still wanting more discussions, which we’ve had…and we believe they will all be back at work this afternoon or tomorrow morning,” he said in an interview on Tuesday afternoon.

“The result has been to clarify for the workforce that their ability to earn more salary, through whatever mechanism, is there, and it’s tied to productivity. And with that explanation they’ve been satisfied and willing to go back to work.”

Savage would not explain in detail how that productivity could be measured.

“It depends. There are very, very many different ways. It depends on what the person’s role is...Productivity is not a simple issue. The company earns value based on its output so if a worker, including one of the labourers, is productive, then we are happy to share the proportion of revenue.”

Al Habtoor workers told UAE media outlets on Monday that they were currently being paid between AED500 ($136) and AED700 per month.

Hundreds of Dubai labourers took to the streets on Monday to demonstrate against low wages and the lack of overtime pay in the city’s troubled construction sector.

Savage said he did not know whether any Al Habtoor employees had been arrested in the protests. “That is the sort of issue that is dealt with by the authorities,” he said. “We have got a lot of things going on.”

The economic downturn, which has sent Dubai real estate prices plunging by up to 50 percent, was not the only reason for the workers’ discontent, he claimed.

“There are many factors influencing the environment the guys work in. You can’t just distil it down to one or two things.”

Al Habtoor Engineering is one of the largest construction and engineering companies in the Middle East. The company’s portfolio includes the iconic Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai and the adjacent Jumeirah Beach Hotel. Among its current projects is the Paris Sorbonne University in Abu Dhabi.

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M. Mouse 11 years ago

It makes you wonder how much more you can squeeze out of these poor guys. I wonder if Mr Savage could manage on 700 per month ?

DaNgErBoY 11 years ago

Mr. Savage really must not have a heart or soul. In what way way does he expect the poor labourers to work even harder than they already are?!?!?!?!?!? It is about time that a minimum wage was introduced in this country to stop the exploitation of workers here and also to bring their wages up 2 the present day.It seems that their wages have been fixed for numerous years now. In other parts of the world, construction workers actually earn good wages and can have the good things in life unlike the near slave trade that is operating on these shores.

John 11 years ago

One wonders who is advising this Savage on his media spin, because he is speaking like a Nazi camp sergeant, not a captain of industry in 21st century Dubai. The fact that all construction giants have shamelessly exploited migrant labour for decades is the indelible blot on Dubai's image at home and abroad. Comments like these vacuous and ill-considered blatherings only reinforce the image of the Dark Ages.

Thunderbolt 11 years ago

what comanies will do to feed a few families, rob a thousand of them. I wonder how hard Mr. Savage works and he has the nerve to speak about productivity in 50 degree celcius. These guys are working 14 hours a day , what productivity is he talking about .... this is truly a disgrace and an issue that has been goign nowhere, human right watch , the international community for human rights should intervene and stop this immeditely ,,,,,,,,,,,, i am absolutley shocked and promise not to go even close to a blood property developed by such inhumane copmanies.

John 11 years ago

As a champion of construction workers' rights in South Africa and one of the earliest adopters of black empowerment principles, Murray & Roberts should be ashamed of its partnerships with the likes of Al Habtoor, particularly in the light of the Savage attack on the integrity of migrant workers. M&R has long stood for good governance and a fair minimum wage in South Africa, so how can it leave its morality at home when it beds down with scum in the Gulf? The convergence of third world labour and first world money is what has made Dubai, but third world labour has the right to withdraw as well, just like the first world money did the moment the fizz went out of the party.

Naeem 11 years ago

They need to work harder to earn more. You mean they will need to work around 18 hours so that their princely wages rise exponentially from $ 136 to $ 136.5 per month. Savage – your generosity is in tune with the holy month.

Ali 11 years ago

Mr Savage is the sort of person who gets frustrated by modern day UK and Europe (due to anti racism laws, labor rights laws). He would probably love a return to the British Raj, but running an army of laborers and making grandiose comments on productivity is as close as he will get to the Raj days in 2009. Its funny that some of the biggest proponents of minimal laborer rights are people who would never get the chance to behave similarly in their own countries due to the myriad of worker rights there.

Concerned 11 years ago

Sub Continent Govt foreign exchange coffers which these poor labors filled by remittance - its Govt duty is to ensure its nationals are brought under minimum salary range - this will ensure workers are not cheated. Al Habtoor statement we hear - what about Embassy of laborer involved - why are they acting dumb and why no one speaks out in favor of these poor laborers.

Setanta 11 years ago

I have heard some pretty surprising statements from construction companies and others in the UAE but this by far the most shocking and disgusting thing I have ever heard. These labourers were protesting because they were not getting paid for their over-time. How could they actually be more productive than working their 8 to 12 hour shift and then staying on and doing even more? Too right there are "very, very many different ways" to measure productivity, there are also very very many different factors to consider such as the heat, Ramadan fasting, unfair pay, etc. Frankly the fact that these guys get anything at all done in this heat has always astounded me. It is one thing to hold people to different standards, to say, sure things might not be great here, but they're still better off than they would be at home. There might even be some truth to that in some cases. But how dare Mr. Savage add personal injury to economic insult by implying that these workers are not doing their jobs well enough.

Original Joe 11 years ago

Savage should definitely think before he speaks next time. He has come across as an uncaring tyrant and has made the situation much worse with his "work harder" comments. He is probably more an idiot than tyrant for opening his big mouth.