Taken Hostage within the UAE


With nearly 90 p.c of its inhabitants consisting of foreigners, the United Arab Emirates tops the checklist of countries internet hosting giant numbers of immigrants. This will likely come as a shock to many, and maybe rightfully so, since worldwide protection of the nation has largely centered on the skyscrapers and the posh lodges of Dubai. What has been left largely unseen are the dwelling circumstances of most of the UAE’s migrant staff, who hail predominantly from South Asian nations reminiscent of India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Through the years, experiences have surfaced claiming that migrant staff are constantly handled unfairly, have their passports confiscated, and their home and worldwide motion restricted. Though the UAE is seen by potential migrant staff as a “land of hope,” the experiences of those that make it to the nation and undergo the employment system might, and doubtless ought to, result in a change of this view.

The Kafala System

Like the remainder of the Gulf Cooperation Council member nations, within the UAE’s Kafala system, migrant staff are primarily “sponsored” by their employers, who’re largely personal firms searching for sources of low cost labor. On paper, the Kafala system grants staff a number of primary rights within the type of annual and maternity go away, in addition to a assure of standard wage funds. The system additionally bans employers from confiscating staff’ passports or having staff work greater than eight hours a day. Nonetheless, a 2019 US State Division report famous that the Emirati authorities “not often investigated” violations of the Emirati regulation governing the Kafala system, which happen within the type of frequent passport confiscations and irregular or no cost of wages. This lack of regulation permits employers to usually confiscate staff’ passports, forces them to reside in crowded labor camps, and restricts the monetary independence of the workers by imposing recruitment charges, rendering the on-paper Kafala rights granted impracticable. Along with the shortage of regulation, the UAE has no minimal wage set for migrant staff, doesn’t permit staff to affix unions, and forces them to obtain the “permission” of their employer earlier than altering or quitting a job. These restrictions result in a view of the Kafala system and the Emirati employment procedures for instance of “trendy slavery.”

The Recruitment Price Problem

If one have been to categorise the employment course of within the UAE as trendy slavery, recruitment charges would function step one in direction of enslavement. Even earlier than arriving within the UAE, migrant staff discover themselves having to pay recruitment charges to businesses that may safe them jobs within the UAE. These that aren’t in a position to pay the payment upfront are assisted by their employers, who find yourself paying the businesses that discover employers from overseas. Per Emirati regulation, it’s unlawful for employers to drive their staff to pay these recruitment charges. But, it’s usually the case that when staff need to give up, they’re compelled by their employers to pay again the recruitment payment that the employers had initially paid. Paying again isn’t straightforward: many staff need to work for as much as a yr simply to have the ability to pay the recruitment payment again to the employer. In different circumstances, the employers deduct sure quantities from the wages of the employees to cowl the recruitment payment. In the long run, it’s nearly all the time the migrant staff that need to bear the burden of the recruitment charges regardless of Emirati regulation clearly banning employers from forcing staff to pay the payment.

So, You’ve Made it to the UAE, Now What?

Dubai building staff having their lunch break. Within the background the tallest constructing on the planet – Burj Khalifa. Picture by Piotr Zarobkiewicz, CC BY-SA 3.0, accessed by way of Wikimedia Commons.

As soon as a migrant employee arrives within the UAE, it’s usually the case that their passport shall be confiscated straight away on the airport. Employers justify these confiscations by claiming that they want the workers’ passports in order that their visas might be issued. Different excuses embody considerations in regards to the security of the passports if the employees maintain holding on to them. Generally staff themselves hand over their passports out of concern of shedding them or having them stolen. Nonetheless, even for the needs of “safekeeping,” it’s nearly all the time the case that the workers should not have direct entry to their passports.

As soon as employers have trapped their staff within the UAE by confiscating their passports, they’ve them signal prolonged contracts, which are sometimes in Arabic or English, with little to no help with translation. After beginning work, staff discover themselves having to reside in packed lodging, generally with as much as 10 folks making an attempt to inhabit one room. In line with Human Rights Watch, some staff have been solely given meals after their work for the day was carried out. Different experiences embody employers deducting meals prices from their staff’ salaries. If a employee have been to fall ailing, it could usually be the case that the price of well being care offered can be deducted from their wage. These which might be much less fortunate don’t have any entry to well being care in any respect, particularly for circumstances that come up attributable to insufficient working circumstances or bodily abuse.

The shortage of labor unions for migrant staff signifies that there isn’t a official platform for the workers to defend their rights and demand higher working and dwelling circumstances. Organizing protests is one choice, however protests within the UAE often finish with arrests and contract terminations. Strikes are additionally prohibited. It’s common for staff to get deported for hanging, usually after being left unpaid for a number of months. In 2013, a strike organized by a bunch of staff of the development agency Arabtec led to dozens of staff being deported and the strike damaged with assist from the police. The federal government seems to collude with the house owners of personal firms like Arabtec and mobilize the police, which, as in nearly all authoritarian regimes, appears to have turn into a software to serve the pursuits of the federal government and the personal firms, moderately than a impartial drive that gives safety. Extra just lately, in 2020, 500 staff of AMB-Hertel, the Emirati department of the French agency Altrad, went on strike as they have been left unpaid. Experiences declare that some staff have been even laid off for occurring strike and couldn’t obtain their pay regardless of having earned it.

Western Accomplices

Altrad, the French multinational building firm, is barely one of many many Western institutions that appear to overlook the legal guidelines and laws of the international locations they’re primarily based in as soon as they begin operations overseas within the UAE. Altrad is joined by New York College (NYU), Hilton, the Louvre, Guggenheim, and the British Museum in conducting alleged malpractice in opposition to migrant staff. Those that took half within the constructing of NYU’s Abu Dhabi campus confronted comparable obstacles, together with having their passports confiscated and being compelled to pay recruitment charges. Though NYU had instated “labor protections,” which have been supposed to make sure that laborers working to construct the campus would take pleasure in higher protections in comparison with UAE requirements, these extra protections have been nearly nonexistent on the bottom. NYU has acknowledged that the extra protections didn’t apply to staff who have been on short-term contracts (roughly 10,000 of the 30,000 laborers). To these for whom the protections did apply, NYU would, on paper, reimburse the recruitment charges. Nonetheless, the College claims that “it couldn’t confirm that staff had paid charges for the NYU campus challenge and never a previous one.” Regardless of the added protections, NYU appears to have didn’t foresee the potential difficulties that might be encountered in a system that’s already very troublesome to navigate for migrant staff.

Staff of Hilton Abu Dhabi reportedly skilled comparable coercion by their employers, within the type of being compelled to give up their passports. Pacific Customary claims that the lodge administration would have the workers signal a type that ensured that the workers have been “voluntarily” turning of their passports for “safekeeping,” as Hilton additionally mentioned as a part of an official assertion. Regardless of the supposed voluntary nature of the give up of passports, staff of Hilton Abu Dhabi claimed that those that didn’t hand over their passports carried the chance of getting their contracts terminated or incurring unjustified fines. Hilton, as a part of the assertion it made, claimed that the workers have been “welcome to take again their passports at any time,” but the workers disagree as they suppose these practices are “all about management.”

Louvre Abu Dhabi beneath building in 2015. Picture by giggel, CC BY-SA 3.0, accessed by way of Wikimedia Commons.

Migrant staff employed on the Saadiyat Island challenge, the place Louvre, Guggenheim and different museums are positioned, confronted comparable challenges with out receiving any type of concrete assist from Western firms and organizations. The Louvre, particularly, has by no means publicly introduced a plan that might shield the rights of these working to construct the Abu Dhabi department of the museum. Unpaid wages, arbitrary detentions, deportations, and threats have been widespread occurrences for these working on the Louvre web site. Different experiences recommend that Louvre staff needed to work for as much as a yr simply to have the ability to pay the recruitment charges again, with some staff who went on strike being left unpaid and deported. In line with the experiences, there have additionally been “violent clashes” amongst migrant staff, which can have been provoked by the hiring of strikebreakers. The clashes, which concerned bodily battle, resulted in a number of staff being hospitalized and a few getting arrested. The British Museum, which has a partnership with the Zayed Nationwide Museum of Abu Dhabi, attributed these clashes to conflicts between “rival gangs of staff.” In its assertion, the British Museum additionally claimed that they weren’t conscious of any disputes “concerning pay or working circumstances on Saadiyat Island.”

There isn’t any doubt that the UAE has to make vital progress in direction of defending the essential rights of migrant staff that migrate there in hopes of constructing a greater, extra affluent future. But, this appears fairly infeasible particularly when institutions that might be deemed “Western” or “humanitarian” are inclined to adapt fairly quickly to the inhumane norms of the UAE. Conditions the place staff’ passports are confiscated, wages are left unpaid, or worse, the place staff are detained and deported would all trigger great outrage in the event that they occurred within the West. Nonetheless, it appears to be the case that when staff are mistreated in a unique nation, far-off from the security of the protecting legal guidelines and laws of nations like america, the UK, or France, these Western institutions have a tendency to stay disappointingly quiet. Whereas the vast majority of the Saadiyat Island initiatives talked about above have been accomplished, the Zayed Nationwide Museum, which is to open in 2022, and Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, set to open in 2025, stay beneath building. Because the UAE commences extra alluring initiatives, it’s completely essential for each her and her Western companions to completely evaluate the standing of migrant staff and act to implement insurance policies that shield their rights and guarantee their security.


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