Dubai: Workers’ Paradise

In a report titled “Building Towers, Cheating Workers,” published last November, HRW catalogued a host of abusive practices including nonpayment of wages, squalid or dangerous working and living conditions, and the denial of proper medical care. It stated that in 2004 alone, more than 800 construction workers died out of an estimated 2.7 million—although the government claimed only 34 deaths that year. In comparison, the U.S. Department of Labor tracked 1,186 fatalities out of roughly 9 million workers in 2005.

Most laborers in the U.A.E. come from South Asian nations including Bangladesh, India, and Sri Lanka. Many find work by taking expensive loans, averaging $2,000 to $3,000, from recruiting agencies in their home countries—and then devote most of their wages to paying off these advances. Employers in Dubai often pay far less than promised, HRW alleges, and most hold workers’ passports for leverage. The average worker earns $175 per month.

Hadi Ghaemi, who authored the HRW report, says that exact statistics are almost impossible to find because the U.A.E. releases little data, but that the government’s own figures indicate more than 20,000 migrant workers have filed complaints about the nonpayment of wages and “labor camp” conditions. Workers have also staged riots. In March, at the site of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s Burj Dubai (photos above), hundreds of frustrated laborers smashed cars and ransacked offices, causing an estimated $1 million in damages, according to The Associated Press.

Full article at Architectural Record.

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