Saturday, March 22, 2008

Rights of expat workers in UAE

Let me first say, whatever rights, expat workers might have on paper are loosley enforced, So I’m posting a letter from the comments section of about the riots in Sharjah over wages. This letter is very good at describing, how the UAE labor law and justice system favors businesses with its swiss cheese of labor laws for each free zone and how any kind of protests are negatively portrayed in the UAE press.

Further reading: Wikipedia: Human rights in the United Arab Emirates

1,500 involved in shocking Sharjah riot
by Elsayed Elazony and Dylan Bowman on Tuesday, 18 March 2008

worker's unrest
Posted by PMS, dubai, UAE on 20 March 2008 at 15:00 UAE time

I would like to start by saying I am against all violence in any form
and I strongly condemn what happened in Sharjah. Having said that I feel that some of the commentators fail to understand the real issues.

Most laborers from India are victims of misinformation and exploitation by the nexus of employers in the gulf and the labour "agents" back home. I met a young man , hardly 20 years old who had paid such an agent Indian Rs. 1,50,000/- to
be considered for a job as sweeper in a mall. He told me his salary was Dhs. 500/- though he had been promised a lot more in India. 200 Dhs. were spent on his food, 25 dhs. on personal needs like toiletries, hair cut etc. Dhs. 200 he sent home and saved 75 Dhs. per month At the exchange rate of Rs. 11 per dirham he will need FIFTEEN years just to recover his investment in coming here. If you add to that the simple fact that the cost of living in Dubai has gone up and the Dirham has depreciated against the rupee you see the magnitude of the problem. If on top of that workers have inhuman living conditions are you surprised they riot ? I am NOT condoning violence I am just explaining the cause of it. No point in conspiracy theories of Indian political parties being behind this. The poor laborers can contribute nothing to their party funds and so they will not be bothered.

For the labour officials to say there are channels for lodging complaints is all fine but they really have no clue at how difficult it is for any one to approach the government agencies for justice. I once met a group of laborers who had not been paid their salary for 6 months and who wanted to lodge a complaint with the labor department. But the poor souls neither had their labor card ( company never gave it to them ) , their passport or visa copy ( company retained it ) or even the 10 dirhams that a typing shop asked of them to prepare their complaint in Arabic.

Where are the so called labor inspectors ? I remember reading that there was an acute shortage of them as many had resigned. As far as I know there is a serious shortage of inspectors and this is one major reason why workers still suffer in horrible conditions.

And where is the PRESS , who are supposed to be the champions for justice ? I must have written at least 25 letters on this very issue but the papers never publish them.

We hear often in the press of protesting workers being deported but never about any builders who have broken laws being jailed. Why ? We read about the rampage by some workers but never any in-depth investigation of the causes that led to it.

For the press or the authorities to just blame it on "instigators" is too simplistic an approach and seems more like and effort to avoid responsibility than a serious attempt to resolve the problem. Some how Raphael Nadal going up a lift to the top of Burj Dubai merits more attention than the plight of the workers who built the tower.

I am not a muslim but I have been told that the Prophet ( PBUH ) has said in the hadith ( right spelling ? ) that a worker must be paid his wages " before the sweat on his brow dries up". What an amazing concept of fairness and justice ! But here we regularly read of protesting workers who did not get their salaries for months on end and the labor officials claiming the problem was solved when the employer "promised to pay " . But there is no follow up in the press if the workers did indeed get their pay as promised. And there are NEVER any reports of any serious action being taken against the erring employers. All they seem to get are warnings.

As an educated and reasonably well to do person I have extreme difficulty sometimes dealing with the authorities to get even the basics of justice ( I've had lots of problems with my land lord who cut off water and electricity in an effort to illegally evict us ) so how can one expect an individual uneducated impoverished laborer who may be only speaks the dialect of his village and does not even have 10 Dhs. in his pocket to go and fight for justice ?

Prices of property in Dubai and Sharjah have gone up by more than 100% in the last year or so. Have the laborers salaries gone up by even 20% to offset the plunging value of the US $ ?

Why are speculators from around the world encouraged and invited to invest and make millions out of the property boom here and the people who actually CREATE this wealth with their bare hands denied any share of that pie ?

Finally - for all its claims to want to build a just and international community why does the UAE government not pass a law on minimum wage for unskilled workers and why does it not allow the formation of labor unions so that the workers have a legitimate voice ?

The people of the Indian subcontinent are not by nature violent. They suffer in silence until it becomes unbearable.

I would like to urge the Authorities to think deeply about this issue and come up with fair , just and long lasting solutions.