Late last year, thousands of workers in Dubai went on strike demanding better pay and housing. Since strikes are unions are illegally, the UAE responding by deporting thousands of the workers. This Human Rights Watch official says there are now about 500,000 migrant construction workers here and the UAE has become increasingly reliant on them. This construction worker from Pakistan lives in a room with six other men in a labor camp outside Dubai. He says as soon as he arrived in the UAE, his job took his passport away to make sure he stayed on the job. In fact, confiscating passports is illegal says the Human Rights Watch official but the law is rarely enforced in the questionable system of sponsorship where individual employers sponsor migrant workers’ visas, meaning the worker can’t switch jobs even if the employer is abusive. This worker had to borrow about $2,500 dollars to a Pakistani employment agency to get him a job in Dubai and it essentially makes him an indentured servant for a year or so. Human rights groups and the US State Dept says this adds up to worker exploitation, but officials in the UAE say the treatment is improving.
Late last month, Abu Dhabi hosted a meeting of ministers from Arab and African countries that supply workers and the countries that receive them and they signed an agreement meant to reduce dubious contract and employment methods. It’s not much, says this analyst but it’s at least a sign that improvements are wanted. He says that if workers aren’t treated right they’ll stop coming and then the work stops and nobody wants that. But many doubt that. The Human Rights Watch official point out that huge numbers of people in India and Pakistan are desperate for work and won’t stop coming and these Gulf states need to do more. She says if the Gulf states enforced fair practice laws, it could become one of the fastest growing regions in the world.
TEXT WRITTEN BY BEN GILBERT FOR PRI.ORG