- Unskilled workers (or desparate individuals) come to the UAE to earn wages they couldn't back home.
- They soon discover their wages are limited and insufficient to repay what they borrowed to come in the first place.
- They find working in desert conditions tormenting and their accommodations unlivable.
- Many suffer quietly, some illegally attempt to change jobs, a few get into illegal activity (e.g. selling liquor), and increasingly some throw down their tools and march out onto the streets.
- In the end many languish in the UAE for years, some return to their countries penniless, some end up in local jails before deportation, and a few, yes, a few find success...
The story is in fact a fluid one; conditons change. Many things are now improving. But while there may be two steps forward, there is still the one step backward that leaves many a poor laborer in desparate straits. Some die here--the numbers unknown. For those most unfortunate ones, it is usually on the job that they succumb, becoming permanently disabled, dying or falling terminally ill. There is no system in place to gather any statistics. No one knows how many suffer such a fate. Such is the nature of the disrespect these individuals experience throughout their time here.
Cogs in a Wheel
The numbers of these men are increasing by tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands a year--as unbelievable as this might sound in a country with a total estimated population of under 5 million. Anyone who has been to Dubai will have seen what is going on. It is the city with, according to some, 30,000 cranes. 30,000 cranes! It is a massive construction site into which these laborers flood, hoping to fulfill dreams but often finding despair instead.
To the credit of the UAE as a nation and a society, it is a country with noble intentions which does not have as its objective to exploit, though such exploitation is often glaringly apparent. It is an emerging and developing nation, which has thusfar miraculously managed to overlay huge numbers of migrant and immigrant workers upon a fabric which holds only small communities of locals.
It is a country immersed in the realities of the modern industrial world. The capitalist system is hard at work here, crafting Dubai, Inc. into a poster child for globalization. But the problem is that Dubai and the UAE do not yet have enough checks and balances in place to protect those who feed the furnace and oil the wheels. This has to change--it is changing--but it isn't changing fast enough.
What Can Government Do?
The powers that be know that better accommodations are needed, higher wages, fairer treatment, etc. Laborers need to have the ability to change jobs when they are being mistreated or when their companies are not fulfilling their contractural obligations. The government needs to stop once and for all the abhorant practice of allowing companies to confiscate passports--a practice which invariably leads to conditions of indentured servitude.
Since last year the federal and local governments have instituted working bans during the hottest time of the day--for a two month period in summer. It is a clear step in the right direction. There is a worker's hotline (800-5005) instituted by the police, which media reports indicate is having a significant impact by bringing to the attention of authorities the wayward practices of many a company.
This, then, is the context in which the laborer from abroad works, and strives to earn enough wages to support a family back home. Where to go from here requires a more thoughtful course of action, not so much from bloggers like me, but from authorities in the UAE in whom the ultimate care of these indivuduals is entrusted. It is also a concern for the UAE public at large, including both locals and the massive expat community.
Continue with Laborers 2, on improving conditions.
Links to further discussion and analysis:
Wanton Carelessness or Sabotage--Laborers May Be Striking Back, a commentary that takes a look at worker unrest.
Box.400.com, a site which indexes recent stories by topic.
Hotline to deal with non-payment of salaries receives 10 calls on first day, an article on the government's portal discussing the worker's hotline.
Update: Gulf News Speical Coverage on Labor in the UAE
Photo Links: Just Another Friday, A Day At Work
New Website (Nov. 2006): In Support of UAE Laborers
Technorati Tags: UAE Topics, labor/labour in the UAE, Dubai construction, laborers/labourers in the UAE