UAE denies mass expulsion of striking workers


“The police guarantee the right to return to work to those labourers who took part in the strike and did not get involved in vandalism,” police chief Dahi Khalfan told the Arabic newspaper Emarat Al Youm.

But he added: “Those who do not wish to resume work will be deported.”

The local press had quoted senior labour ministry official Humaid bin Deemas on Tuesday saying there would be a “deportation of 4,000 labourers who went on strike and committed acts of vandalism.”

Several thousand manual workers in Dubai downed tools and reportedly occupied and vandalised a building before attacking police and vehicles with stones on Saturday.

On Sunday, the strike spread to three other areas in the city-state, with the local press reporting 3,100 workers involved, but police moved in and returned the strikers to their accommodation blocks.

Another 2,000 construction workers were also still on strike late Tuesday, staying in their housing compound in the middle of the desert.

“There is no such thing as mass deportation,” India’s ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Talmiz Ahmed, said, adding that “only those involved in violence will be prosecuted.”

But he said only 159 workers, including 90 Indians, were “identified as being involved in violence.”

He said the strike involved 4,500 workers, including 3,900 Indians, but that many of those workers claimed to have been caught in the middle, and had not intended to protest.

According to officials cited by local media, the protesters were demanding an unspecified increase to their wages, which are as low as 500 dirhams ($ 136) a month, improved transport to construction sites and better housing.

Such protests are rare in the UAE, where strike action is outlawed and workers are not allowed to form labour unions. The right to stay in the UAE ends when a job contract is terminated.

But Deemas himself told yesterday’s press that most striking workers have opted to resume work “after signing pledges prepared by the ministry to adhere to the details of their job contracts, including wages.”

He said the ministry will proceed to cancel the labour cards of those who have refused to go back to work in order to deport them.

“I am satisfied to see this matter defused,” ambassador Ahmed said, but pointed out that the embassy is working with the UAE authorities to ensure transparency in finalising work contracts.

He said workers coming from India with finalised contracts find that the documents are substituted with different Arabic-language contracts upon arrival in the oil-rich Gulf country.

“In cooperation with the UAE, we will see how to reform the contract process,” Ahmed said, adding that he was hoping to see new reforms introduced within two months, including an embassy attestation to all job contracts.

Blue-collar workers represent 80 per cent of the 1.4 million Indian community in the UAE, Ahmed said.

An estimated 700,000 Asians, mostly from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, work as construction workers in the UAE, where only around 20 per cent of the four million population are UAE citizens. In March last year, 2,500 labourers rioted at the construction site of Burj Dubai, which has since become the world’s tallest skyscraper.

The incident prompted the New York-based Human Rights Watch to issue a statement calling on the UAE government to “end abusive labour practices” and describing labour conditions as “less than human”.

Last November, UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashed al-Maktoum ordered sweeping measures to protect the rights of foreign labourers.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *