Hundreds of Abu Dhabi labourers refuse to work in wage dispute

Workers took off their uniforms and threw a key to the construction site entrance in the sea, witnesses said

Workers on Reem Island left the construction site on Tuesday in protest at having not been paid. Mina Aldroubi / The National
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Hundreds of Abu Dhabi labourers downed tools and refused to work this week after claiming they had not been paid by their employer.

The men were seen gathering outside a construction site on Reem Island on Tuesday at about 8.30am.

Witnesses said they heard the labourers shouting while one security guard claimed he saw an employee throw a key to the construction site entrance into the sea.

“I do not know who he is and what happened after,” the guard said. “I just saw him, and afterwards police arrived and the workers separated.”

Speaking to The National, residents of a building opposite the construction site told how they awoke to shouts from the labourers early in the morning.

Witnesses described seeing about 300 workers walking off the premises. Police arrived 10 minutes later to deal with the dispute.

“I asked the security guard what was going on and he said they [the workers] had not been paid,” said one observer.

Sama Al Khafaji, 26, said she saw the workers wandering around in the area, having taken off their uniforms.

“[The workers] were everywhere on the street just running around," she said. "Not in one particular place; around other buildings in the area that were also under construction."

The dual British-Iraqi national said she had been living in The Wave, a residential block, for two years but had not noticed any progress on the construction site opposite her building.

“It just looks the same and other buildings are constructed in much faster time," she said. “It has been under construction for so long.”

When The National visited the site on Tuesday afternoon, there were no signs of labourers or police on the scene. The door to the construction site was closed and no men were seen at work.

Police and the Ministry for Human Resources and Emiratisation were contacted for comment but no one was made available. It is not known if the dispute has now been settled.

Labourers working at the same site also took to the streets last November, again in a dispute over pay.

The National spoke to a number of the men at the time, who all said they had not been paid for months.

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

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