November 12, 2006
Dirty Little Secrets: Labour Exploitation in the UAE
To get away from US centered whanking on, and away from the depressing subjects of Iraq or Palestine, a quick reference to a very timely article in FT on labour exploitation in the UAE .
An open secret of course, if one can say a secret at all.
Several items then:
Citing wage exploitation and hazardous conditions, [Human Rights Watch] issued a report calling on countries including the US and Australia, which are currently negotiating free trade agreements with a number of Gulf states, to insist on labour reform as a condition of signing.
I am not often in favour of bringing non-trade issues into such negotiations, but the UAE's situation makes me vaguely sympathetic to this call.
I liked this item I may add
“In March, the government promised to legalise unions by the end of the year, but we have not seen it. In September, it issued a law that bans strikes and calls for deportation of workers involved in strikes,” Hadi Ghaemi, HRW researcher, told reporters in Dubai.
Of course, that's the game, promise and delay.
Not that I am a huge fan of unions, but in theory at least they might do very good things in UAE for labourers and other workers, given the almost forced labour approach UAE companies take with low-skilled labour.
TrackBack URL for this entry:
Here's the HRW report, which is actually worth reading in its entirety:
Seems that unions are essentially being proposed as an alternative to citizenship and representation for these workers - and may be quite necessary given that the idiot embassies aren't doing squat to help their nationals. And to be honest, many of the site managers and overlords who put the workers in these dangerous conditions are probably non-nationals too, from the subcontinent (that's my impression - anyone confirm?) And those at the managerial/executive levels probably don't care how the machine works so long as it works and gives them their nice salaries, particularly as they have themselves decided to forego certain rights in order to make some quick money.
Posted by: SP at November 13, 2006 02:47 AM
Serf mentality. The main goverment mouthpiece newspaper, Emirates Today, published a headline article in the past week about how wonderful it is for labourers here because it is so much better than in their home countries. So that's the mindset you're dealing with, whatever the PR-inspired lipservice to human rights.
Posted by: secretdubai at November 13, 2006 10:48 AM
Top Secret Anonymous Guy did a fine entry on labour rights in the UAE a while back.
Actually, there are probably a number of entries on this subject in our archives. We have an unhealthy obsession with Dubai.
Posted by: eerie at November 13, 2006 05:05 PM
Re: unhealthy obsession with Dubai: reflects the region, really.
Posted by: Tom Scudder at November 14, 2006 02:20 AM
SP: It's not that embassy staffers are staffed by lazy, uninformed, or cowardly. They have two important considerations to keep in mind:
1) To get anything done, it is better to talk in private than in public. I know of at least one very important embassy following this path of action aggressively, but I'm sure others are doing the same.
2) If the host country decides the embassy is being too troublesome and that it wants workers from another country instead, this will end large foreign exchange flows, and likely hurt more workers than it helps.
Posted by: dubaiwalla at November 14, 2006 10:17 AM
Dubaiwalla, this whole culture of saving face by not saying things openly has not really worked. Presumably the host country would also like its guest workers to be relatively contented and productive and not dying and committing suicide in large numbers, and surely there is nothing all that shameful in cooperation between Emirati authorities and embassies like those of India and Pakistan to ensure to the extent possible that the labour they get is not indentured.
You say that embassy action is likely to make host country govts turn to other countries for workers, and hurt existing guest workers in the long run, but at some point the workers are going to decide it's not worth going to Dubai with all the stories of unpaid wages and mistreatment, and the flows may slow down anyway if the system is not fixed. Many companies use the "we'll just go to another country for our cheap labour, then" line too, as a way of getting around labour laws, but there are sunk costs to be considered, surely, so they can be nudged to change their ways.
Posted by: SP at November 15, 2006 06:24 AM
Well, first take some things with a grain of salt. Committing suicide in large numbers is a bit of an exageration.
As to "shameful" - frankly the Indian sub-Con elites tend to regard labour in a serf-like context, so already on the labour sourcing side there is a hidden contempt for their poorer fellow-nationals.
I very much doubt, given poor information flow, and the fact that there is a reality of lots of unskilled labour actually making surplus to send back to villages, plus mass un or under-employment in the sub-Continent, etc that the supply is in any danger of drying up.
No, afraid all the market drivers indicate supply will be plentiful.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at November 15, 2006 10:17 AM
"frankly the Indian sub-Con elites tend to regard labour in a serf-like context, so already on the labour sourcing side there is a hidden contempt for their poorer fellow-nationals"
Absolutely - which is one of the reasons I assume the embassies are doing so little, as they are more likely to be on the side of managers and contracters, many of whom are also subcon.
I assume all concerned (recruitment agencies, contracters, UAE companies) have enough invested in the supply chain of subcon labour that they wouldn't want to have to switch to other countries for recruitment - could that perhaps be a point of leverage for embassies (if they could rouse themselves to care)?
Posted by: SP at November 15, 2006 11:48 AM
Nah, there is no "supply chain" as such. They go to labour recruiters / agents that are independents in each country and round up coolies. Can as easily go to Indochina as Sub Continent. Of course given much intermediate managment and Sr. labourers are themselves SubCon origin, staying with the familiar is easy. But cost to switch to Indonesian labour etc. I would call trivial as the overseas (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh) recruiters end is not owned.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at November 15, 2006 11:59 AM