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.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.
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.
I hope things will change soon for the better.
Read the full report here.
[technorati tags: human rights, UAE, cheap labor, South Asia, Dubai, Sharjah, law]