Many of these workers earn less than $160 per month and are subject to what human rights groups describe as “wage exploitation” and “hazardous working conditions”. Recent protests by workers have put pressure on the government and developers to address labour issues.
Earlier this month, some 40,000 construction workers for Arabtec, a Dubai-based developer, whose portfolio includes the Burj Dubai project, holed up in their labour camps, refusing to return to work until their demands for a pay increase of $55 per month was met.
The high-profile labour strike lasted 10 days, but the labourers agreed to return to work after reaching a settlement with Arabtec for a 20 per cent rise. The company declined requests by AME Info to comment further on the incident.
The government has largely limited its involvement in labour issues to creating a safe and fair regulatory environment for UAE nationals and migrant workers.
“We can’t force a company to increase the workers wages, we just make sure the companies pay workers according to their contract” a labour ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AME Info.
He said the ministry runs inspections every six months to ensure that companies are paying their workers and providing them with adequate living conditions. “We will try to run more inspections by the beginning of the year and extend further support.”
The official also said the ministry was looking into allegations that developers were exposing construction workers to hazardous conditions.
Seven workers were killed and 15 injured when a bridge collapsed at a construction site in Dubai Marina early this month, raising concerns about the safety of other construction sites. “We are looking into issues of safety and [the living conditions of] worker camps. We want to create a safe and livable environment for these workers,” the official said.
Once improved pay and conditions are pushed through, construction companies are expected to pass on the increased costs to buyers, pushing prices up in Dubai yet higher.
Some industry estimates predict that for bigger construction firms, better pay is likely to see costs of up to $27m over the coming few years, with much – if not all – of it being passed onto the customer.
Workers have raised a call for the UAE government to set a minimum wage. Legislation passed in 1980 mandates the establishment of a minimum wage, though the law has never been implemented.
Speaking during MEED’s Project Risk Management in Construction Conference in November, Grahame McCaig, General Manger at Dutco Balfour Beatty, one of the largest construction companies in the UAE with over 100,000 workers, said solutions to various labour issues will have to come from the private sector.
“The government is not prepared to deal with this sort of problem so it’s really up to us to improve things,” said McCaig. “And there is no other way for these workers to vent so they decided from time to time to take mass action.”
Thursday, November 29- 2007 @ 14:00 UAE local time (GMT+4) Replication or redistribution in whole or in part is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Mediaquest FZ LLC.