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Tue 10 Mar 2015 03:33 PM

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Workers demands were not legitimate, says contractor after Downtown Dubai protest

Update: Arabian Construction Co, a sub-contractor hired by Emaar, says labourers "main complaint was on incentives - which, by law, we are not obliged to pay"

Workers demands were not legitimate, says contractor after Downtown Dubai protest

Emaar said on Tuesday that it has taken urgent steps to ensure that a contractor resolves issues that resulted in hundreds of foreign construction workers staging a rare public protest outside the opulent Dubai Mall on Tuesday.

Dubai authorities deployed riot police to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Boulevard in downtown Dubai, where the world's tallest building is located, blocking some roads while negotiators tried to settle a dispute about overtime pay.

Click here to see a video of the protest

The workers, from south Asia, said the company had stopped overtime work and pay at a time when basic salaries were too low.

An Emaar spokesperson said: “Emaar works with established and large contracting companies that have a good track-record and strong organisational structure for our projects. We have clear guidelines for our contractors to ensure that they follow industry best practices.

"We have stipulated strict measures in terms of health, safety and worker conditions that not only comply with the UAE government regulations but also to international standards in the construction industry. Emaar is taking this matter seriously and have highlighted the incident to the senior management of the contractors to ensure that matters are resolved at the earliest possible.”

Major-General Khamis Mattar Al Mazeina, commander-in-chief of Dubai Police, said in comments published by news agency WAM: "Dubai Police interfered and managed to resolve the issue in less than an hour, after workers were promised that their demands will be carefully considered."

He added that the Dubai Police presence at the scene was just a "normal precautionary measure to maintain order and ensure optimal level of public safety, including the workers", saying the situation was settled in a "very professional and civilised manner".

Workers, wearing green uniforms, remained at their construction site near Dubai Mall while negotiations went on. They cheered and applauded when they were informed that the dispute had been settled and as police began leaving the area.

Mohammed, a Pakistani employee of Arabian Construction Co, said a worker's basic salary was less than 500 dirhams ($136) and with overtime pay, one could make around 1,100 dirhams. "We don't have overtime work any more so we're striking. I'm not afraid to ask for my rights," he said.

Details of the agreement between the protesters and the company were not announced, but the company's general manager Hassan Auji later told Reuters that the workers' demands were not legitimate.

"Their main complaint was on incentives - which, by law, we are not obliged to pay," Auji said by telephone.

Dubai, the business and tourism hub of the United Arab Emirates, is enjoying a construction boom following its recovery from the 2008 financial crisis; hundreds of thousands of migrant workers staff the UAE's building sites. Dissent is tightly controlled and public protests are generally prohibited.

Arabian Business: why we're going behind a paywall

Red Snappa 5 years ago

This is a perennial problem, Emaar should screw this contractor into the floorboards to ensure all the payments are made according to international labour standards. Labourer wages cannot get any lower, than their current ludicrous levels in this industry, it is utter exploitation.

Observer today 5 years ago

Red Snappa, Can you please let me know which law the contractor has broken? Overtime is not a right in any country that I am aware of. Whether there should be a minimum salary level is another question but your assigning the blame on the contractor is not backed up by the facts of the case.

Peter Peter 5 years ago

If 500 Dhs. p.m. is all that these workers get, what do they eat, what do they send to their families and what do they save for their future? The company spokesman seems to have no qualms making facetious statements. I wonder what his salary is.

If there is a law for the minimum wage of house maids - which is an appreciable AED 1500/- per month in addition to accommodation & food, then why not a minimum wage for the construction industry workers ? Why these double standards ? Just so builders can make pots of money ? Surely the low cost of labor is not reflected in the high prices of property as the builders and promoters make fat profits.

In spite of H.H. Sh. Mohammed, Ruler of Dubai, praising the role of the low paid Asian labourers in building modern Dubai, the majority of builders exploit these poor people. I appeal to the rulers to institute a fair minimum wage law for all labourers & ensure they get what they were promised - because I know for sure that many don't.

Chris J 5 years ago

The real issue is not that the employer (Contracting Company) had no legal obligation to pay the workers a bonus. The real issue is whether the employer intimated that a bonus would be paid at all. If they had intimated that the bonus would be paid, then the employees have a right to receive it.

Richard 5 years ago

The worker mentions his basic wage is less than AED500, in 1980 when with the contractor Mothercat basic wage was AED750 plus food allowance and accommodation. With overtime and bonus all workers from labour upwards would earn AED1,000 +, even in 1980 the overtime and bonus were essential elements of a persons wage.

There were in the 1980's less reputable contractors who had basic salaries of less than AED500, often these contractors were from the subcontinent exploiting their own people.

We are now in 2015, 35 years on and it would appear that wages of foreign workers have decreased. Something is not right that needs to be corrected, the Employers could help this situation by ensuring that their ''reputable'' contractors pay fair and reasonable wages.

Contractors should not exploit foreign workers because of the endless number of people who continue to want to come and work in the Middle East to better the lives of their families back home.

Irfan 5 years ago

I have a question for Mr. Auji, who proclaims "Their main complaint was on incentives - which, by law, we are not obliged to pay". Yet you pay these workers less than AED 500 a month? On humanitarian grounds and considering the ridiculous return on investment that you get, are you not obliged to pay them a better wage?

mike b 5 years ago

Doesn't this just underline the problem.
"Their main complaint was on incentives - which, by law, we are not obliged to pay," Auji said by telephone.
Yes, we will tell them about incentives when we hire them, but we don't actually have to follow through. In any other situation this would constitute fraudulent behaviour, but not so here. Is it not enough that these labourers sweat and strain to make Dubai a reality, as they are far from home and attempting to get ahead. Now, here again and again, there is deception, legal (?) manipulation, inhuman treatment and simple greed. When is enough enough? Why not simply pay them their pittances and miniscule (by Dubai terms) bonuses and let them leave happy and feeling they are respected for the work they have done to create Dubai? Better yet, have some locals join the workforces and see how this sort of behaviour pans out. I am guessing that if there was even one Emirati working on the crews, there would be no such deception. Dream on

Mandy 5 years ago

More should be done for this workers. They labor under extreme heat and live in shabby, overcrowded labour camp to build this city. And their salary less than AED500 per month, isn't that the price of a Friday Brunch?

Ulevpri 5 years ago

Of course it is a misunderstanding of the workers... who else can be blamed? You pay them 500AED per month for 6 working days with 12 hours a day and you are surprised that they are upset and frustrated? This is in fact a 288 hours per month with an hourly rate of 1.74AED!!! Its a shame on everyone who says they do not have a right to complain, it is a shame on the General Manager who tells that "they misunderstanding the mechanism of counting extra hours"! Let this GM work for 1 month for 1.74AED per hour and then -maybe than he has the right to open his mouth! This is ridiculous, degrading and discussing! And for got sake if they work 12 hours than you have to pay them for 12 hours and not only for 8! Who are you to steal 4 hours daily from the life of another human being?

Mandy 5 years ago

More has to be done for this workers. They labour under extreme heat and live in overcrowded labour camps, often in poor conditions, making a mere wage of AED500.
Isn't that the price of a Friday brunch?