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Dubai’s Achilles’ heel

Dubai’s Achilles’ heel

The BBC has published another scathing report on Dubai’s labor camps titled “The dark side of Dubai”. But will it change anything?

April 6, 2009 3:05 by

Panorama, a program on the BBC, addresses the plight of workers in Dubai in a segment titled “The dark side of Dubai”, a subject that has tainted the emirate’s image since its construction boom made headlines years ago.

Ben Anderson, a BBC journalist, spent three months in Dubai living among construction workers, and reports on his views:  “I no longer think of the seven star Burj Al Arab hotel when I think of Dubai, but of emaciated, wretched men, lining up for buses before the sun has risen, resigned to the fact that their hard day’s work wouldn’t earn them enough to buy a round of coffee here. The branding of Dubai has to be one of the greatest PR triumphs of the past 20 years.”

He adds, “It works out incredibly well for the developers – they can charge first world fortunes for the dream villas and apartments, but pay third world salaries to the men actually building them.”

In March 2006, the UAE Ministry of Labor announced it was working to legalize labor unions: “Laborers will be allowed to form unions. We’re going to have one union, with separate representatives for the construction, fishing, agriculture and other industries,” Minister Ali Al Kaabi said.

However, a Human Rights Watch report published in March 2007 indicates that labor unions had not been legalized yet.

The report said: “Areas in urgent need of further reform include the exclusion of provisions on workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively; the prohibition of strikes; the exclusion of certain categories of workers, such as domestic and farming and grazing workers, from the protections of the labor law […] the absence of provisions banning the confiscation of passports and other identity documents and requiring employment contracts to be made available in workers’ native languages; and inadequate and unenforced penalties for violations of the law.”

According to the BBC’s Ben Anderson, the predicaments of workers have not improved to date.

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