01 May, 2006

Labourers' salaries

I understood that the average "unskilled" general construction labourers earned about AED400-600 a month. That's UAE dirhams.

But a couple of the recent articles in the international papers have them much higher. The Washington Post describes two Bangladeshi construction labourers:

Amin is 24, Miah 19. Both look 14. Here for three years, Amin makes about $400 a month, Miah $245. Each paid an agent in Bangladesh more than $3,000 to secure a visa and work in Dubai, and both still owe a large share of that.

The Globe & Mail has a Kashmiri construction worker:

"Mr. Khan came to Abu Dhabi for the first time in 1997 and took a job as a digging-machine operator at $750 (U.S.) a month. According to a letter of reference the company gave him when he left in 1999, he was a "sincere and hard worker."

"He quit that job because another company, a small contractor called Abdul al-Kaseeri General Transport, offered him a job that paid about $1,200 monthly."


A thousand dollars a month is a staggeringly high salary here for non white-collar jobs (and even for many of them). Could it be that these newspapers are confusing dirhams with dollars? And if so, can you imagine their horror if they realised the workers were actually getting just over a quarter of the meagre wages cited?

Of course these figures may well be accurate, and perhaps these guys are all in semi-skilled positions.

10 comments:

John B. Chilton said...

Later in the article it is reported the two Bangladeshi workers are charge $175 per month for food and rent. For those paid 400-600 DIRHAM per month food and rent are paid for by the employer. As I understand it.

That expains some of the difference.

clayfuture said...

An ordinary unskilled labourer gets between AED 400-850, depending on the company. Heavy equipment/machinery operators come under the skilled category and get between AED 2000-4500, again depending on the company. Most companies do provide accommodation, but 10-15 men in a room is more like living in a cardboard box. Very few companies provide meals (more like snacks).

In addition to small personal expenses, they have to send money back to their families and most have to pay back the agencies/invididuals they borrowed money from to get here.

These are the unfortunate souls who build our cities. We should feel lucky for our standard of living and thank God everyday for that.

John B. Chilton said...

From the UAE HR Report 2005, Table 3.5: Average Male/Female Monthly Wages in AED by Occupational Group, 2003:

Ordinary Labor, Male: 723AED
Service Occupations, Male: 925

The other occupation categories are: Senior Managers, Professionals, Technicians, Clerical, Sales, Agriculture, Industrial-Chem.-Food Industries, Partner/Investor.

Table 3.4: Avg M/F Monthly Wage by Sector, 2003
Construction/Male 1,388AED.

Of course those are averages and it is not clear from these tables what the ranges are and who is included in these groupings.

Grumpy Goat said...

It's arguably an easy mistake to make if you're a journalist in Washington DC.

The widespread use of slang terms such as "bucks", "chips", "rats" and even "dollars" when referring to UAE dirhams could easily mislead anyone.

Bloglingo said...

Why does a country so rich pay hard working laborers so little? It's sad how people take advantage of other people's situation.

Grumpy Goat said...

They come here for the same reason as many expatriates. We can earn more doing whatever we do here than we can in our home countries. It is nevertheless obscene that so many are paid less than what was promised, paid late or not paid at all.

It is difficult to use promises to buy food, educate the children or pay the mortgage.

Female Chauvinistic Pigs said...

Labourer's salaries differ.
For example, in our company salary levels are
unskiled labor: AED 1500
semi skilled and drivers: 2000 to 2500 AED
skilled (electricians and mechanics): 2500 - 3000 AED.
Company provides accommodation and transport.
I heard about salaries at AED 400 maybe 6 years ago. I believe these days they receive a bit more than that.

BD said...

Wages as low as Dhs 450 are real. I've been to Musafah (Abu Dhabi), Al Quoz and Sonapur (Dubai)--the big labor camps--and have met laborers with such salaries, living in rooms with 10, 12 and even 18 people. But Dhs 450 seems to be the bare minimum. More will have that as a base salary plus Dhs 150 for food--giving a total of Dhs 600. Some unskilled and semi-skilled workers will earn up to Dhs 1000 due to overtime. Furthermore, once completely dingy and squalid accommodations are being spruced up with linoleum, more lighting, fresh coats of paint, etc. while still packing in the same numbers.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it is true as BD is saying. I have personally spoken to at least a dozen men and women who earned under 500 dirhams a month. That's right - UNDER! (These r cleaners)

Anonymous said...

Having recently spent 5 weeks in Abu Dhabi I have a strong impression that the vast majority of foreign labourers employed in the UAE who are recruited from countries such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh etc have a significant ignorance of health and safety issues relating to asbestos and mercury in fluorescent/energy-saving light bulbs.

I would like to investigate ways of addressing this dangerous ignorance and would appreciate any advice people might have on how to raise the profile of such topics so that there would be an increase in popular awareness of the potential health hazards associated with such substances.

While I have contacted some hotel chains with a request to educate their staffs on the risks from broken light-bulbs, I am unaware of what organisations might exist in the construction industry with similar duty of care obligations for labourers. Any direction in this regard would be welcome. Thank you

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