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Dubai workers hold rare strike for more wages

Thousands of labourers at Arabtec, the emirate's largest construction company, hold second day of action over poor pay.

Last Modified: 20 May 2013 06:48
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Strikes by migrant workers in the UAE are infrequent with trade unions banned under national law [GALLO/GETTY]

Thousands of workers employed by Dubai's largest construction company have gone on strike for a second day to back wage demands in a rare labour protest in the Gulf emirate, where trade unions are banned.

Blue-collared labourers employed by Arabtec, the company behind projects including the world's tallest building Burj Khalifa, did not show up for work on Sunday, said a spokesman for the company, UAE's labour ministry and workers.

Employees said the strike began on Saturday and that the workers were determined not to end it without a pay rise.

"They are upset at the low wages and also about not being paid for overtime work," one employee told the Reuters news agency. He said workers at his site were paid between $160 and $190 a month.

"The protest started in Abu Dhabi on Saturday ... workers in Dubai have also joined," the employee said.

Most blue collar workers in the Gulf Arab states are migrant labourers hired on a contract basis from South Asian countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, and strikes are rare.

Low wages

Migrant workers in Dubai are often employed at wages that are extremely low by Western standards and housed in dormitory-style accommodation on the outskirts of the city, part of the UAE, a regional business and tourism hub.

A sub-contractor confirmed the stoppage, saying he had to call back his workers from one Dubai work site after Arabtec labourers failed to show up on Sunday.

An Arabtec spokesperson said: "We are working to resolve the situation as quickly as possible, alongside the Ministry of Labour and the Police Authority."

The UAE Labour Ministry told Reuters that a team of the ministry's labour crisis management committee was "closely following the work stoppage".

The ministry added that Arabtec was paying the workers according to contracts it had signed with them, and said their accommodation was in compliance with labour regulations.

It said the labourers were receiving meals and had free transportation, housing and health insurance, services that it said were at least equal to their salaries.

Dubai's building boom stalled in 2009 after the global slowdown triggered a collapse in its property sector, with prices falling by more than 50 percent from their peaks of 2008.

Construction has gradually picked up as developers have revived stalled projects and announced new ones including the world's biggest Ferris wheel and more than 100 luxury hotels.

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