The Plight of Migrant Workers in Dubai

The main concern raised in this thread is the escalating issue of “unhappy migrant workers” in the Gulf region along with the severity of this issue in Dubai. These hard laborers are faced with somewhat debasing living conditions and wages despite the vital role that they play in supporting the region’s economic growth through building a lot of mansions and skyscrapers.

Although it is a reality in Dubai, most members do not feel that this issue would not have any significant impact on Dubai’s economic progress. There will always be 10000 workers more to replace the 1000 who will leave according to some members. Furthermore, the Dubai government will certainly take steps in keeping such issues from escalating so as not to adversely affect the country’s economy. One specific example that has been cited by members is the building of low cost housing in order to cool down the emirate’s property boom.

Nonetheless, several members feel that the Dubai government should take steps in providing these migrant workers with decent working and living conditions as well as wages that they rightfully deserve. This is despite the reality that there is a surplus of workers that could replace the “unhappy” ones. Thus, as the city is largely dependent on migrant workers, Dubai should be a forerunner in responding to issues such as these as well as to their rights as a whole.

Hence, Dubai and the entire region itself have been criticized for years for its labor standards. In fact, most of its workers speak of systematic exploitation. The recent riot of restive workers last 2007 and the negative press that it created in the city, amidst its presentation as a world-class business and tourist hub, has given embarrassment to its government. These workers were faced with high recruitment fees that make it difficult for them, apart from the long work hours, the minimum wage that is incompatible with the emirate’s market economy, and the withholding of their salaries in order to keep them from leaving. Moreover, conditions such as confiscation of passports, the absence of medical insurance, and cramped employer-provided houses located in the outskirts of the city lacking in facilities for the most basic needs have become prevalent in Dubai.

Certain intervening steps have been taken in order to address these concerns beginning with the Labor Ministry’s involvement. This is to ensure that regulations are properly observed, especially in construction sites and living quarters. Authorities have also mandated companies that their workers’ wages should be placed in bank accounts that they will monitor and check from time to time. Moreover, a draft labor law will soon be presented to the cabinet, thus allowing provisions for the government to reject applications from importing companies who have records of violations. This law also enables the government to increase its fines for companies who desist making improvements and to shut down companies who are repeat offenders.

Despite these changes, such conditions are still yet to be seen and felt. The government’s greatest challenge, at present, is the implementation of these reforms along with other obstacles such as persuading companies to make improvements while maintaining the sector’s phenomenal growth, which is estimated to be worth billions of dollars.

Moreover, soaring land prices have also hindered the construction of labor camps that have wider spaces and better hygienic conditions. In addition, though workers can now sue their employers in court if they miss their wages, rulings for these cases seldom result in payment.

There are already some efforts from the private sector for these so-called improvements. However small it may be, it is something that may become big later on. Thus, The Dubai Industrial City, as part of its supportive services, will be featuring 7 residential complexes that will provide affordable and high-standard accommodations for workers and their supervisors. Upon its completion in 2008, these labor cities will cover an area of 14 million square feet and accommodate 87,500 beds. Albeit these labor cities are commercial developments, such steps could result in a better involvement of the government along with the private sector into the plight of these workers.

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One Response to “The Plight of Migrant Workers in Dubai”

  1. Nice post you have. I want to take a minute to comment and perhaps add my perspective as well. Currently, Dubai's economy is causing hardship to lot of people. As developers we are also having trouble with our investors. We have had a lot of cancellations which has caused us serious trouble with financial institutions like banks and other private equity investors.

    Our companies like Emirates Neon Group better known an ENG Media has recently filed for first bankruptcy protection in the middle east. Our Ruwaad Holding (owners of the Amazulu project) has gone into a definite tail-spin as investors money has been removed totally.

    A lot of investor related fraud has also caused us some serious financial hardships.

    Hanif Merchant
    Ex-Chairman and Ex-CEO of Emirates Neon Group
    Ex-Chairman of Ruwaad Holdings


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