Taken Hostage within the UAE


With nearly 90 % of its inhabitants consisting of foreigners, the United Arab Emirates tops the listing of countries internet hosting giant numbers of immigrants. This will come as a shock to many, and maybe rightfully so, since worldwide protection of the nation has principally targeted on the skyscrapers and the luxurious resorts of Dubai. What has been left largely unseen are the dwelling situations of most of the UAE’s migrant staff, who hail predominantly from South Asian nations similar to India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Over time, 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 basically “sponsored” by their employers, who’re principally personal firms on the lookout 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 depart, 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 “hardly ever investigated” violations of the Emirati legislation 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 typically confiscate staff’ passports, forces them to reside in crowded labor camps, and restricts the monetary independence of the workers by means of imposing recruitment charges, rendering the on-paper Kafala rights granted impracticable. Along with the dearth of regulation, the UAE has no minimal wage set for migrant staff, doesn’t enable staff to hitch 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 “fashionable slavery.”

The Recruitment Price Situation

If one had been to categorise the employment course of within the UAE as fashionable 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 charge upfront are assisted by their employers, who find yourself paying the businesses that discover employers from overseas. Per Emirati legislation, it’s unlawful for employers to power their staff to pay these recruitment charges. But, it’s typically the case that when staff need to give up, they’re pressured by their employers to pay again the recruitment charge that the employers had initially paid. Paying again shouldn’t be straightforward: many staff should work for as much as a yr simply to have the ability to pay the recruitment charge again to the employer. In different circumstances, the employers deduct sure quantities from the wages of the employees to cowl the recruitment charge. In the long run, it’s nearly at all times the migrant staff that should bear the burden of the recruitment charges regardless of Emirati legislation clearly banning employers from forcing staff to pay the charge.

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 typically the case that their passport can 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 embrace considerations concerning the security of the passports if the employees hold holding on to them. Generally staff themselves surrender their passports out of concern of dropping them or having them stolen. Nonetheless, even for the needs of “safekeeping,” it’s nearly at all times the case that the workers wouldn’t 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 response to Human Rights Watch, some staff had been solely given meals after their work for the day was finished. Different experiences embrace employers deducting meals prices from their staff’ salaries. If a employee had been to fall in poor health, it will typically 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 situations that come up as a consequence of insufficient working situations 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 situations. Organizing protests is one choice, however protests within the UAE normally finish with arrests and contract terminations. Strikes are additionally prohibited. It’s common for staff to get deported for putting, typically after being left unpaid for a number of months. In 2013, a strike organized by a gaggle of staff of the development agency Arabtec led to dozens of staff being deported and the strike damaged with help 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 out to be a device to serve the pursuits of the federal government and the personal firms, somewhat than a impartial power 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 had been left unpaid. Stories declare that some staff had 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 simply one of many many Western institutions that appear to overlook the legal guidelines and laws of the nations they’re based mostly 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 towards migrant staff. Those that took half within the constructing of NYU’s Abu Dhabi campus confronted related obstacles, together with having their passports confiscated and being pressured to pay recruitment charges. Though NYU had instated “labor protections,” which had 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 had been nearly nonexistent on the bottom. NYU has acknowledged that the extra protections didn’t apply to staff who had 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 mission and never a previous one.” Regardless of the added protections, NYU appears to have didn’t foresee the potential difficulties that will be encountered in a system that’s already very troublesome to navigate for migrant staff.

Workers of Hilton Abu Dhabi reportedly skilled related coercion by their employers, within the type of being pressured to give up their passports. Pacific Commonplace claims that the resort administration would have the workers signal a type that ensured that the workers had been “voluntarily” turning of their passports for “safekeeping,” as Hilton additionally stated 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 surrender 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 had 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 mission, the place Louvre, Guggenheim and different museums are positioned, confronted related challenges with out receiving any type of concrete help from Western firms and organizations. The Louvre, particularly, has by no means publicly introduced a plan that will defend the rights of these working to construct the Abu Dhabi department of the museum. Unpaid wages, arbitrary detentions, deportations, and threats had been widespread occurrences for these working on the Louvre web site. Different experiences counsel 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 response to 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 situations on Saadiyat Island.”

There isn’t any doubt that the UAE has to make vital progress in direction of defending the fundamental 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 will 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 large 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 the US, the UK, or France, these Western institutions have a tendency to stay disappointingly quiet. Whereas nearly all of the Saadiyat Island tasks 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 tasks, it’s completely essential for each her and her Western companions to completely overview the standing of migrant staff and act to implement insurance policies that defend their rights and guarantee their security.


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