April 12, 2006

In UAE, Workers' Dreams are Shattered

Pulitzer Prize winning Washington Post journalist Anthony Shadid reports from the hustle and bustle of Dubai and Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, where South Asian workers are struggling through legal means to get compensated for hours of work they have not been paid for. A construction company for whom they labored for hours on end went bankrupt and escaped without paying their workers. The country that has become the beacon of tourism and business industry in the Middle East will surely not continue in its success if it continues to violate the basic labor rights of these individuals who have no way of protecting themselves from such abuses.
A sweltering fog still shrouded the East Coast & Hamriah Co. labor camp when, dressed in the equivalent of their Sunday best, the migrant workers set out after dawn Tuesday. They didn't shower beforehand. Water was cut last year to their shantytown, now abandoned by their employer. They didn't eat breakfast. They have no electricity to cook.

Siddiq and the workers of the East Coast & Hamriah Co. live in conditions so bleak as to defy their lingering faith. Their story is a Kafkaesque tale of those left behind, as they pursue salaries of hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars by trekking every few days to a court that has become their bane and hope.

Although unions are banned, workers have launched strikes over the past year to protest living conditions, salaries of between $4 and $7 a day and hazardous workplaces, where human rights groups say deaths are sometimes covered up.
UAE is not alone. All countries in the Gulf rely on cheap South Asian labor to build their high rises and highways. I came across an interesting website a few weeks ago that belongs to a group of South Asian workers living and working in the UAE. The website tells the horrific stories of some of these laborers and the struggles and injustice they face on a regular basis. It's worth a look. Human rights organizations continue to call on these nations to respect the labor rights of these workers, to pay them on time, provide decent living conditions, reasonable time off, etc. These calls usually fall on deaf ears. It's a shame because I've lived in UAE and I know how humble and down to earth many local Emaratis are. At the same time, I saw with my own eyes the types of living conditions that laborers are forced to accommodate to.
I hope things will change soon for the better.

Read the full report here.

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At 1:20 PM, Blogger JasonSpalding said...

Why don't the Gulf countries use cheap labor from Gaza?

At 9:26 AM, Anonymous Razib Ahmed said...

It is really a sad story because the migrant labors from South Asia have
contributed enormously in the development of GCC countries. The International
Labour Organization

(ILO) has raised its concern over trafficking
of women from Sri Lanka.

At 5:13 AM, Anonymous Mo said...

There is alot of activism about this issue on the web, people are sick to death of the conditions these guys work in...

A magazine i saw online has it as its main cover story..


There is also a petition online i got from the same site


Its sad as everyone has said people just get stuck and cant even go back home

At 11:11 AM, Blogger moi said...

Mo, welcome to my blog, and thanks for the links. It's encouraging to see that people are becoming more and more aware of these abuses and speaking out against them.

At 3:40 PM, Blogger Christopher Oldfield said...

Things will change, slowly. What is more, the more DXB is under the spotlight, the quicker things will happen ...

Check out my efforts on this subject ...


I enjoyed your site.



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