Posted in News

Migrant Workers Exploited While U.A.E. Prospers

A quick glance at Dubai’s skyline confirms that the United Arab Emirates’ (U.A.E.’s) three decade long economic boom is running at full throttle. Once a quiet, somewhat impoverished corner of the Persian Gulf, the Emirates has become a top tourism destination and a major hub for foreign investment in the region.

New skyscrapers and five-star accommodations pervade the landscape. With one-fifth of the world’s cranes at work here and approximately US$100 billion of construction in the works, Dubai has become the fastest growing city on Earth. The U.A.E. has now surpassed Egypt as the second largest Arab economy.

But these now-glittering cosmopolitan cities come at a high human cost. According to the U.K.’s Guardian and other sources, many of the more than two million migrant workers brought to the U.A.E. are being abused and exploited.

To supply over 6,000 construction companies in the U.A.E., agencies recruit migrant workers—mainly from South Asian countries such as India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka—to work for less than $300 per month on typically 3-5 year contracts. The problems for these workers begin at home. Recruitment agencies routinely force workers to pay for their visa fees, travel costs, and sometimes recruiting fees—usually totaling US$2000-$3000. As a result, workers are deeply in debt before work even begins.

Upon arrival in the U.A.E., employers illegally confiscate the worker’s passport for months, allegedly to ensure the employee doesn’t abandon the job early. Wages are often withheld without explanation for anywhere from 2-6 months.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), federal laws are already in place to protect against these illegal practices, but the laws go almost entirely unenforced. In addition to enforcement of existing laws, HRW also has recommended the U.A.E. adopt labor laws allowing the formation of trade unions and collective bargaining, as well as the adoption of a minimum wage law which was promised in 1980 but never put into practice.

In September of 2006, the government promised an increase from 140 labor inspectors to 1000 within 18 months. Dubai in particular seems to be taking steps towards improvement. The Dubai police created a Human Rights Department to deal with labor disputes through mediation, and the Dubai government established the Permanent Committee on Labor Affairs to serve largely the same purpose. It remains to be seen if the added bureaucracy will improve the lot of the migrant workers in a meaningful way.

(Visited 50 times, 1 visits today)

Read Ethical Traveler's Reprint Policy.