29 November, 2005

The country is making money, but what about the laborers?

I return to this topic because of an interesting article in the Washington Post dated 02 November. No doubt, with all the attention Dubai is bringing upon itself with its building extravaganza, more and more people on the outside are finding out for the first time about the system of indentured labor here. This wider attention could mean we are at the beginning of the end of this abhorant practice. I have my own reflections on this issue, taking the perspective of the developer, builder and buyer. There are conscientious people among those who obviously benefit from the existence of cheap labor. My argument is that these people can do something without having to sacrafice their dream of building or living in palaces in the desert.

I would also add one caveat about the higher wages that I'd like to think we all believe the laborers should get. The irony is that it probably wouldn't do anything to improve their lifestyles here anyway. As can be seen in the UAE even "executive bachelors" with salaries of Dh2000-Dh3000, up to 4x what laborers earn, still choose to live in cramped, squalid accommodations, as their first priority is to repatriate as much money as possible. Well, that really is their choice, while it is still the obligation of employers to pay them a fair wage.

The latest from CNN (30-Nov-2005) and a host of other links on the topic. I believe the pressure is mounting and as the party with ultimate responsibility the UAE government will have to be more proactive on this issue.

8 comments:

Al Ain Taxi said...

As can be seen in the UAE even "executive bachelors" with salaries of Dh2000-Dh3000, up to 4x what laborers earn, still choose to live in cramped, squalid accommodations, as their first priority is to repatriate as much money as possible. Well, that really is their choice, while it is still the obligation of employers to pay them a fair wage.

Dh 3000 max a month won't go very far in Dubai so I can understand why they go for the cheapest accomodations.

BD said...

Yes, Al Ain Taxi, you are quite right, even Dh 3000 does not amount to much, but by way of example I have found a Dh 1500 studio to rent in Abu Dhabi. It isn't great--quite run down in fact--but were I to share it with another person I could for as little as Dh 750 per month. Still most exec-bachelors I know would rather not spend anything more than Dh 300, even if it meant sharting a 2-bedroom apartment with 9 other people.

CG said...

and how does one start to shart?


(sorry...I could not resist)

BD said...

Oh my, "sharting!" The perils of blogging! ~and of writing for the Khaleej Times, if you get my reference!

Slagothor said...

And would a "fair" wage be one that the worker and employer mutually agree upon, or is it what some westerner thinks a person "should be" paid?

BD said...

Your implication, slagothor, is that they know what they're going to be getting (wages) and getting into (living conditions) before they come. In some cases they do and in some cases they are mislead. In any event, it isn't only about wages--although I referred to that specifically in my post. It is also about things like having their passports confiscated and various forms of coersion and mistreament that no worker of any status should receive. One example: Worker is ill or exhausted and will not or cannot go to work one day. He is docked 3 days pay for this! This is a form of servitude.

BD said...

I'd like to add... There's a difference between what people will accept as wages (out of desperation for example) and what is fair. That is why many countries have an enforced minimum wage--to prevent businesses from exploiting people in desperate need of earning a living. You and I both live in the UAE. Can either of us honestly say that Dh 500 or 600 per month, which many unskilled laborers get, is fair? It's not a question of Western, Eastern or other cultural values. It's a question of what is decent in the society in which we live.

waterboy said...

And would a "fair" wage be one that the worker and employer mutually agree upon, or is it what some westerner thinks a person "should be" paid?

A fair wage would be one that is actually paid. Instead, their employers confiscate their passports so that they can't leave, then don't pay them.

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