Dubai: 4,000 Asian labourers in Dubai are reportedly facing expulsion after they staged illegal strikes at the weekend over poor wages and working conditions in the booming Gulf city state.
Senior labour ministry official Humaid bin Deemas told the Arabic newspaper Emarat Al-Youm on Tuesday that there would be a “deportation of 4,000 labourers who went on strike and committed acts of vandalism.
The authorities in the United Arab Emirates took the decision after several thousand manual workers downed tools and reportedly occupied and vandalized a building before attacking police and vehicles with stones on Saturday.
UAE does not take kindly to striking factions
Such protests are rare in the UAE, where strike action is outlawed and workers are not allowed to form labour unions.
Emarat Al-Youm did not say when the mass deportation would occur. “The appropriate bodies have been contacted to carry out the necessary measures (for their deportation),” bin Deemas added. “The labourers do not want to work and we will not force them to.”
On Sunday, the strike spread to three other areas in the city-state, with local press reporting 3,100 workers involved, but police moved in and returned the strikers to their accommodation blocks.
According to reports, hundreds of Asian labourers had already been deported. According to officials cited by local media, the protesters were demanding an unspecified increase to their wages, which average between $140 - 270 a month, improved transport to construction sites and better housing.
“The (labour) ministry had heard, and was about to act upon, the requests from the labourers for things such as better housing and more buses. But their central demand was for higher wages, which is against the law,” Deemas said.
Dubai’s construction industry unlikely to be impacted
Dubai, part of the UAE federation, has experienced a huge boom in its economy in recent years fuelled to a large degree by the growth of the construction sector.
Predominantly from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, the labourers travel thousands of miles to work in the region so they can send money home to their families.
An estimated 700,000 Asians work as construction workers in the UAE, where fewer than 20% of the four million population are UAE citizens.
In March last year, 2,500 labourers rioted at the construction site of Burj Dubai, set to be the world’s tallest skyscraper. Some destroyed vehicles and equipment.
Human Rights Watch implores UAE to be more humane
The incident prompted the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) to issue a statement calling on the UAE government to “end abusive labour practices” 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.
In August around 500 foreign workers protested over low pay and poor working conditions. The strike broke up and the remaining demonstrators returned to work after around 24 foreigners were deported.