Number of labour strikes in Dubai falls almost 25%

Officials say that although the number of incidents declined last year, there were more workers – 25,788 – involved in the strikes, with wage delays cited as the primary reason for industrial action.

Workers protesting near the Arabtec labour camp in Jebel Ali Industrial area 1 on May 20, 2013. Pawan Singh / The National
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DUBAI // The number of labour strikes in the emirate last year fell to 34, from 45 in 2012, according to a report released by the Federal Government.

Nearly 26,000 workers were involved in industrial action. The National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking said in its annual report that the main reason for the strikes, and which accounted for at least 20 last year, was delayed payment of wages. Demands for higher salaries were another reason.

Officials said although the number of protests had declined from 2012, when 21,600 workers had downed tools, more workers – 25,788 – were involved in fewer protests last year.

Figures for other emirates were not available.

“We have started many programmes, which include meeting workers in their accommodations regularly,” said Col Dr Mohamed Abdullah Al Murr, director general of the human rights department at Dubai Police.

“We also have a 24-hour toll-free number – 800 50005 – where workers can call any time with their complaints. We want to know if they have a problem before they stop working. We have put up posters in accommodations in English, Urdu, Bengali and Arabic with our number.”

Col Al Murr said the most strikes in any one month was five, which occurred in January and August last year. One of the largest strikes, however, took place in May, when thousands of employees from Arabtec Construction stopped work for four days over a pay dispute.

The staff, who earned between Dh650 and Dh1,200 a month, wanted their Dh350 food allowance to be paid in cash, instead of being given daily meals.

More than 460 workers, mostly from Bangladesh, Pakistan and India, were discharged and sent home. Four months later, the company announced it had raised the salaries of 36,000 of its workers by an average of 20 per cent.

The committee report, which was released last week, also revealed that nearly Dh30 million owed to workers as wages was recovered from companies last year.

This represents a substantial jump from Dh2.76m in 2012, but lower than 2011, when Dh87.3m was recovered from companies.

Complaints numbering 1,005 were made by workers to Dubai Police last year, the report said. Of this, 43 per cent involved demand for higher pay and another 23 per cent reported a delay in the payment of wages.

However, police said the rise in complaints was a good sign, as more workers now understood their rights and were approaching them before downing tools.

“The complaints have increased but the strikes have decreased,” said Major Saeed Rashid Alhelli, head of Temporary Employment Conditions Control Section and General Department of Legal and Disciplinary Inspection at Dubai Police.

“They now have an easy way to contact the police. They understand that police can help them. We are telling the workers: ‘We will come to you. You don’t have to go to the roads.’

“We want to quickly respond to build their confidence. We realised that when a strike happens, we can stop it for that time but we can’t stop them from happening again. So, we have focused on preventative ways.”

However, with a rising number of grievances related to pay, experts said companies should have strategies in place to increase wages.

“Salaries cannot stay the same forever,” said Dr Saeed Al Ghufli, assistant undersecretary for Federal National Council Affairs and a coordinator at the human trafficking committee.

“There should be increases and evaluations. Companies should have clear strategies from the beginning on how they will increase salaries.”

A labour recruitment firm said companies have to look at pay increases of at least 30 per cent for skilled and unskilled workers.

“If they need workers to finish projects before 2020, they need to offer better pay,” said Mohammed Jindran, managing director of Overseas Labour Supply, which recruits workers from 16 countries on behalf of contracting firms.

“There is a huge shortage of workers and companies are in dire straits. We are trying hard to recruit workers from India and other countries, but Indian workers want better salaries.”

He said unskilled workers do not want to settle for less than Dh1,000 a month, despite Dh750 being acceptable a couple of years ago.

The 2013 NCCHT report also said more workers – 3.6 million – were receiving their monthly earnings through the Wage Protection System (WPS), which was introduced in 2009.

It also said a total of 252,000 labourers now had companies transfer their salaries through banks or money transfer companies, rather than making cash payments.