Migrant workers in Dubai face deportation

Dozens of migrant building workers who joined a strike earlier this month in Dubai are now facing deportation.

Thousands of mainly Asian workers employed by Arabtec – one of the Gulf’s largest construction firms – stopped work on May 18 but returned after four days when police intervened. Unions and strikes are illegal in the UAE and other Gulf states, and some of the strikers are reported to have been detained for questioning.

Deportation orders are said to have been served on 43 of those who took part in the protest. 

According to The National the strikers were seeking to have a monthly food allowance of 350 dirhams ($95) paid in cash, rather than in meals provided by the company.

The Pakistan Today website has a detailed report on the men’s working conditions – and their multiple grievances.

Al-Jazeera’s website has interviews with several of the workers. One of them, Syed Khaled, a Bangladeshi who mixes concrete, said:

“I have not gotten a raise in the last nine years. The strike ended because of pressure from higher management and police. People are scared. It is possible this will happen again because conditions are so bad.

“I haven't been allowed to take annual leave in the last three years because there is too much work to be done. [UAE labour law guarantees workers 30 days of annual leave]

“Thirty workers received a termination in the day shift and 53 in the night shift [after the strike].

“We live with five men to a room and 40 or 50 men share a bathroom. There is a big line for the bathroom in mornings before work. The company is very cruel so going on strike is a good idea. 

“I currently earn 8,000 Bangladeshi taka ($102) per month. In Bangladesh for this work I can earn 10,000-15,000 taka ($128- $192) per month, easily, but the work is far from my home and it isn't steady, maybe work one month and no work for two months.”

Arabtec says the stoppage was “resolved amicably” but those responsible for instigating the strike will be held accountable.

Following a previous strike by Arabtec workers in 2011, seventy migrant labourers are said to have been deported.

Four years ago, Arabtec featured in a BBC Panorama documentary entitled “Slumdogs and Millionaires”.

Reporter Ben Anderson sneaked into one of the accommodation camps provided for the workers and was met with the smell of raw sewage:

“Sewage had leaked out all over the camp, and workers had to create a network stepping stones to cross it and get back to their accommodation blocks. One toilet block had no water supply and the latrines were filled with piles of raw faeces.

“Documents obtained by Panorama showed that a month previous to the programme's visit, the Dubai authorities described the sewage situation at the site critical. Arabtec had been fined 10,000 dirhams, approximately £2,000, for allowing sewage to overflow into workers' accommodation.

“The authorities also reported that the camp was overcrowded with 7,500 labourers sharing 1,248 rooms with poor ventilation.”

Arabtec’s initial comment on the unsanitary conditions was to blame the workers, saying that their "standards of cleanliness and hygiene are not up to your or our standards".

Posted by Brian Whitaker
Sunday, 26 May 2013