20 September 2005


Dubai saw its first stirrings of labour organisation this week with a demonstration by workers who hadn't been paid their wages for 5 months.

There are no unions here, and most workers are at the mercy of their employer who recruit them en masse through agencies and house them in what are tellingly called 'labour camps', large area of communal housing in the dustier parts of town. All these workers are recruited for the immense construction projects going on all over the place and mostly come from the sub-continent.

It is common practice for companies to withhold two months salaries to 'prevent absconding', but this week saw the first time workers took to the street to protest the fact that they hadn't been paid for 5 months. They blocked Sheikh Zayed Road for a short time, but moved peacefully to the side of the road after police arrived.

The manager of the company, Al Hamed Development and Construction, was taken to the police station. Al Hamed is one of the contractors working on the Palm Jumeirah project. When the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs sent inspectors to meet with the workers, they told the company that they would have to pay within 24 hours or workers could transfer their sponsorship and still claim their dues.

Their had already been four complaints against the company in the past. We'll see what happens next, as this seems to be a new development in the way workers allow themselves to be treated.

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