13 November, 2006

The Whole World is Watching -

- as is the WTO, I would imagine.

The good folks over at HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH have released a report titled "Building Towers, Cheating Workers," much to the discomfort of the Ministry of Labor. The 71 page report outlines a pattern and abuse and deceit, especially by (but not limited to) the construction industry. Some observations from various media outlets -

None of us wants to be here. The work is too hard and there's not enough money," said 23-year old Biswas, who makes about $180 a month.

New York-based Human Rights Watch says hundreds die in unreported accidents on dangerous job sites. The Emirates, the watchdog said, "has abdicated almost entirely from its responsibility to protect workers' rights."

From the BBC:

Hundreds of thousands of mainly foreign labourers are employed in construction booms in Dubai and elsewhere.

But according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), they are often poorly paid and made to work in dangerous conditions.

Labour reforms unveiled last week by the government were welcome but more must be done to enforce them, HRW said.


Entitled 'Building Towers, Cheating Workers', the rights group report identifies abuses ranging from illegal recruitment practices in the UAE and in source countries, to low wages, the withholding of employees' passports, and hazardous working conditions.

"It is the employers who are violating the laws and it is the government's responsibility to enforce the laws," said Hadi Ghaemi, a researcher for HRW and author of the report. He added that most of the UAE's existing laws already protect migrant workers from exploitation and abuse but that the problem was a lack of implementation and enforcement.
HRW also highlighted the burden of debt incurred by workers because of fees they pay recruitment agencies inside or outside the UAE when the country's law expects employers to meet these costs. "Recruiting agencies unlawfully force workers, rather than their employers, to pay 2,000-3,000 (dollars) for travel, visas, government fees and the recruiters' own services," it said.
Deaths in construction accidents or by heatstroke are thought to be rife in the Gulf, but few are ever made public. In 2004, the Dubai recorded 34 deaths in construction accidents. But Human Rights Watch learned that embassies of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh shipped home corpses of 880 construction workers.
Even the usually spineless lackeys over at GULF NEWS appeared to have grown a backbone (albeit in a rather roundabout fashion). While they start out with their standard parroting of the government's position:
The report drew strong criticism from lawyers and members of non-governmental organisations in the country for what they said as "imbalanced recommendations" and "sensational arguments" based on poor investigation.

Interviews with just 60 workers will not give anybody a real picture of the situation, one critic said.
But to GN's credit, the middle third of the article manages to get some information out under the guise of a government response to the allegations:
Titled "Building Towers, Cheating Workers", the 71-page report distributed here yesterday focused on issues ranging from forcing workers seeking employment in the UAE to pay illegal sum to get working permits, to delayed payment of salaries, lack of proper safety measures in construction sites and poor living conditions in accommodation facilities.

The rights body said it based its report on interviews with workers and people related to the business in February this year.

Hadi Ghaemi who managed and conducted the survey, blamed the UAE Government for "not aggressively prosecuting" companies violating labourers' rights and recommended an 11-point action plan to curb abuse of workers rights in construction sector.
The official response appears to be some type of strange counter-propaganda campaign to denigrate HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH's attempts to work with the Ministry of Labor in the preparation of the report. Which is bizarre -- if there wasn't a problem, then why have several sub-ministerial types spent the last week running around talking about how labor problems will be solved?


A Blessing in Tragedy said...

Oooh! 1st comment!

I just have to say that this whole thing is an embarrassment. this is a country where the current malls are full of people but no shoppers (I remember a post about a film called Do Buy)

Why oh why do we need the world's tallest building and largest mall? to revel in our ignorance? or because someone wanted it and as a baby throwing a tantrum, got it?

This project is killing people for nothing. in the end it will be another blemish of the economic styling of the UAE, which is pretty much spend now, pay later.

And what happens when payment cant be made?

The ends do not justify the means in this case.

trailingspouse said...

why have several sub-ministerial types spent the last week running around talking about how labor problems will be solved?

Yes, the timing is interesting, now that we see this report. It's beginning to seem that social problems only get serious attention when they hit the international press.

black belt 1st dan,shotokan! said...

i agree with what a blessing in tragedy said. does dubai really need all these useless shopping malls & what not?

poo said...

GN needs to read their methodology carefully before printing the number of respondents.

[...]60 construction workers in the emirates of Dubai, Sharjah, and ‘Ajman[...]

[...]To gain a more rounded picture of labor issues, Human Rights Watch interviewed 47 unskilled migrant workers working outside of the construction sector[...]

And the hacks at GN forgot to print this tiny little gem from the link above.[...]During our research in the UAE, we encountered a general atmosphere of fear among all migrant workers whom we interviewed. All of them asked that their full name not be used because the government could easily deport them. They also expressed fear that their employers might punish them because of their testimonies.[...]

GN ftl

PS: can someone find a copy of this. Its being cited in the HRW report.

BD said...

Interesting post. Obviously when the country advertizes itself through high profile projects it brings on added attention to other issues. A normalization of labor policy--that includes enforcement--will have to follow if Dubai wants to project a positive image. Thank goodness for the Burj Dubai, Emirates Mall and the rest, for garnering so much attention.

Anonymous said...

To be fair on GN, you have to compare what they printed with what has been printed in the past.

It was a pretty bold step to take - compare it with the other UAE media.

KT = no mention of the report
ET = HRW praises UAE
7days = evil firms exploit, but government is doing just fine

At least we now know why Shk Mo decided to make his 'give labourers their rights' decree last week.

The thing that puzzles me of course is - either the big man was aware of the ruthless exploitation for 10 years and chose not to do anything about it until the world media got the bit between its teeth...or...he's really rather out of touch with what's going on in Dubai.

Woke said...

I guess you are right. HRW sent the letter sent to UAE labour dept in July and would have notified them about publishing the report.

The decree was more or less a damage limitation exercise.

ahmed said...

Before I say anything, let me clarify that I believe the workers issue is a problem that needs to be solved.

But Human Rights Watch learned that embassies of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh shipped home corpses of 880 construction workers.

This is an absurd claim if it signals the number is due to work-related accidents. Most of the airlines of these countries ship the corpses of the dead free of charge, and the kin of most of the deceased prefer to take their bodies to their home countries for their last rites. This figure of dead workers sent home includes those who die a natural death. Keeping in mind the fact that the number of workers from sub-continent is in the magnitude of hundreds of thousands, 880 deaths a year is quite normal. Suggesting, or even sending a signal that 880 people died of constuction accidents undermines this very report.

Woke said...

The report only says that a high percentage(30-50% I think) of the 880 people were onsite deaths, something far higher than the official version.

In the airport construction accident itself, the official figure was 4 or 5 when the actual toll was more than 40.

Anonymous said...

And who can forget the dry dock incident. Three people slightly shaken up and everyone given a soothing cup of tea wasn't it?

Oh (and dozens killed, but we won't mention that ok)

Mubarak said...

Blessing in tragedy and black belt: your comments are off the topic discussed here; but I 'll play along with u and ask u if u have recently visited any mall in Dubai. More than 95% of the malls are fully occupied. And they are occupied by private business who are motivated purely by profit. They are not in busniess in these malls just because people wonder there buying nothing.

In the rest of most the comments I feel a sense of jealousy and envy. Its like as if in other parts of the world accidents dont occur, and people dont die.

secretdubai said...

More than 95% of the malls are fully occupied. And they are occupied by private business who are motivated purely by profit. They are not in busniess in these malls just because people wonder there buying nothing.

You're misunderstanding. Sure the malls are fully occupied. It doesn't mean the storeholders are all doing well. Take a stroll down Ibn Battuta and ask some of the managers of the stores and restaurants how they are doing. Even the staff will tell you how slow business is. It's really sad. But they can't get out of their contracts. Some small shops have already closed down though. And a couple of shops that had planned to open there never did (presumably when they realised how the others were struggling).

Anonymous said...

Sure, people die in accidents everywhere. It's just that 'everywhere' we tend to know about it, what actually happened, and the number of people who died.

BD said...

I love Ibn Battuta Mall--the architecture, the color, the space, etc. But I fear it will just go out of buisiness for the lack of traffic there. I think people are put-off by the difficulty of getting from one area to another and the poorly laid out parking. They should develop some sort of internal people-moving system, otherwise the Mall itself will become history.

LadyOnTheTop said...

to Ahmed

I personally know 2 accidents one involved 4 deaths 1 involved dozens injured told by my project managing/engineer friends ( both are on those jumeirah/new dubai sites), none was even mentioned on the paper.

I dont need to know more project managers to know whats really going on.

I just wish there are more media cover of the real dubai. im so tired of explaining my butt of to ppl from overseas give me that 'oh my god u live in dubai its amazing city isnt' kind.

Anonymous said...

It is true that not only workers even some educated expatriate professionals face the brunt of delayed salaries and non payment of salaries and I personally know some friends of mine who suffered the same and they couldn't do much as the company was run by an ex Minister of Health and they are still facing the same.

Guys , is there a way to resolve these ?

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