UAE Labor Issues
"This Human Rights Watch report addresses the abusive conditions faced by migrant construction workers in the UAE, specifically their exploitation by employers, and the UAE federal government’s failure adequately to address these abuses. Through interviews with workers, government officials, and foreign embassy representatives, as well as a survey of media reports in news and trade journal publications, we highlight what appears to be the most common concern of the construction workers: extremely low wages, typically withheld by employers for a minimum of two months along with their passports, as 'security' to keep the worker from quitting. Having incurred large debts to recruitment agencies in their home countries, paid to finance visa and travel costs, notwithstanding the legal prohibition against charging workers such fees, the workers feel compelled to remain in these jobs, despite the low—and in some cases, more protractedly unpaid—wages.
"Moreover, while engaged in the hazardous work of constructing high-rises, workers face apparently high rates of injury and death with little assurance that their employers will cover their health care needs. A lack of reliable and comprehensive statistics, including the failure to enforce company reporting requirements about deaths and injuries, is indicative of the entirely deficient capacities of the agencies tasked with investigating labor practices. Human Rights Watch learned that 140 government inspectors were responsible for overseeing the labor practices of more than 240,000 businesses employing migrant workers. Of greater concern is that the same deficiency of oversight may mean an absence of appropriate enforcement of health and safety standards, which may directly account for worker deaths and injuries.
"Foreigners constitute 95 percent of the workforce in the UAE, and as of 2005, there were 2,738,000 migrant workers in the country. The roughly 20 percent of migrant workers who are employed in construction are overwhelmingly men from South Asia, many of them illiterate and from impoverished rural communities.
"UAE federal labor law provisions apply to both UAE nationals and migrant workers. But the federal government of the UAE has abdicated almost entirely from its responsibility to protect workers’ rights by investigating, prosecuting and remedying abusive and unlawful conduct by employers towards the construction workers. It has failed to enforce UAE law that since 1980 has required the government to implement a minimum wage, evidently choosing to uphold the interests of generally powerful and extremely profitable construction companies over the most basic rights of the migrant worker, who on average receives the equivalent of US$175 a month for his labor on a construction site. This stands in stark contrast to the average per capita income in the UAE of $2,106 a month."
I've pointed out some issues of concern for American policy over at American Footprints. The UAE is also still on my travel agenda for the year, though I'm now thinking March or April rather than January or February.