Construction workers strike on Abu Dhabi's Reem Island

Labourers claim they have not been paid for more than six months

Police defuse the strike at a construction site on Reem Island on Monday morning. The National
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Construction workers in Abu Dhabi held a strike for several hours on Monday claiming they have not been paid in months.

Labourers downed tools and protested at their company's alleged failure to respond to their complaints.

The incident is the latest involving the same company, a general contractor that fits out high rise buildings. Workers previously told of being each owed Dh12,500 or more.

Police and the company have been contacted for comment. Officers defused the situation and many of those involved returned to work by 10.20am.

This happens every few weeks, the unpaid workers don't want anybody to work until they get paid

Workers at the scene said the trouble began about 7am, when skilled contractors from a separate company - who are not involved in the dispute - began arriving for work. The unpaid labourers told them not to work either, in solidarity with them.

"Some contractors were already working inside the site, they beat them up to make them leave," one eyewitness told The National.

"Police arrived at around 8.15am and arrested those who were fighting."

Mohammed Jalal, a fire safety technician for a separate subcontracting company, said he was told to leave to avoid trouble outside.

"We arrived to work at 6.40am and worked for a bit. Then a safety officer came and told us to go outside," said the 26-year-old Egyptian.

"He said some workers who have not been paid for six months had gone on strike."

He began work on the project last week and said it was the first time he has seen a strike.

"We've received instructions from our company not to proceed with work until they [the main company] resolve their issue," he said.

Another subcontractor who was not involved in the striking said: "The engineers probably negotiated with the workers," said

"This happens every few weeks, the unpaid workers don't want anybody to work until they get paid.

"The senior engineers from the company negotiate with them and they give in and some accept a fraction of their salary and call it off."

The UAE authorities have taken an increasingly tough line against companies which fail to pay their employees on time.

Three years ago, the UAE Cabinet passed legislation allowing the government to halt the granting of work permits to companies with wage backlogs.

Despite those measures, late payments remain an issue, particularly in the construction sector.

Judicial officials have urged unpaid employees to report their companies to the labour ministry or Tawafuq service centres to ensure companies failing to pay wages are dealt with.