UAE to deport striking workers

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Asian laborers work at the construction site of a new track for the Dubai Metro, on 22 May 2013. (Photo: AFP - Marwan Naamani)

Published Saturday, May 25, 2013

The United Arab Emirates has slapped 43 migrant workers with deportation orders for demanding a salary hike and better conditions, media reported.

Thousands of mostly Asian building workers employed by the Arabtec construction giant began a strike last weekend demanding their 350 dirhams ($95) food allowance paid with their wages rather than the three daily meals provided by the company, English-language daily The National said.

Nearly all of them ended the strike on Wednesday after police and immigration officials entered their camps and threatened them with deportation. Those who refused to return to work may be sent back home.

Human Rights Watch condemned the move.

"It would be scandalous if the UAE deported workers who have taken a courageous stand for their basic rights," HRW Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson said in a statement on Saturday.

"This strike is a stark reminder of the UAE's failure to reform its exploitative labor system," Whitson charged.

Strikes are banned in the UAE, where unions do not exist and the government does not stipulate a minimum wage.

Unskilled workers earn a monthly salary of no more than 900 dirhams (about $245).

Arabtec said the strike was a result of "a minority group who will be held accountable for their actions."

It said the issue had been "resolved amicably" with cooperation from the labor ministry, police and other official bodies.

HRW said that UAE authorities reportedly deported 70 migrant workers after a similar strike by Arabtec laborers in January 2011.

Arabtec is part of a consortium that built Dubai's Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building. It also has won a $654-million contract to build the Louvre Abu Dhabi art gallery, set to open in 2015.

Rights groups have repeatedly criticized the UAE and other Gulf countries for their treatment of millions of foreign workers, mostly Asians.

The watchdogs have particularly criticized the sponsorship system, still in force in most Gulf states, under which workers must be sponsored by their employers, likening the to modern-day slavery.



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