NYU to compensate Abu Dhabi campus construction workers

New York University has said it will pay compensation to workers at its site on Saadiyat Island who were affected by what an independent report has called a 'compliance gap'.

New York University has said standards slipped during construction of its campus on Saadiyat Island. Courtesy NYU
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ABU DHABI // New York University has said it will pay compensation to workers at its site on Saadiyat Island who were affected by what an independent report has called a “compliance gap”.

The report, from the US investigation firm Nardello & Co, said that some sub-contractors fell outside labour guidelines and oversight for the project.

The university said in a statement yesterday that it welcomed the report, which it said confirmed that NYU and its local partner, Tamkeen, “made good faith efforts” to set standards that protected most of about 30,000 people who worked on the construction of its Abu Dhabi campus.

The gap affected workers servicing small or short-term sub-contracts – about a third of the total workforce, most of whom worked during the final stages of construction, NYU said.

“That error – for which we take responsibility – was inconsistent with the project’s publicly-stated commitment to ensure that all of those working on the construction of the NYUAD Saadiyat Campus would be covered by our standards and compliance monitoring programme,” the university said.

“Accordingly, we will provide payment to those workers who were not covered by the compliance monitoring programme to bring their compensation into line with what they should have received under our labour standards.

“NYU and Tamkeen will appoint an independent third party to implement this process, and we commit to ensuring that we will not allow such a compliance gap to occur in the future.”

Nardello & Co were hired to look at labour practices at the Saadiyat site after criticisms appeared in the media last year.

Their 72-page report said that the company had found “isolated” cases of workers who did not receive their full wages even though they were covered by the project compliance system.

NYU said it is “committed to rectifying those situations as well”.

The report also made recommendations regarding enforcement of labour standards, passport retention and accommodation standards.

Another problem highlighted by the report concerned recruitment fees, where workers pay agents in their home countries for getting them jobs overseas.

This is an area that has proved problematic for many years in many countries and is outlawed in the UAE.

However, some labourers working for sub-contractors in the UAE – not linked to the NYUAD project – told The National recently that they had paid agents in their home countries the equivalent of two years’ wages to acquire jobs here.

The issue, the Nardello & Co report says, is “a complex, multi-jurisdictional challenge”.

NYUAD said it adopted a policy of reimbursing those fees where a worker could provide evidence that he had to pay them.

NYU said that it wants to be “part of the solution around the recruitment fees challenge”. It is planning to launch a research initiative through the NYU Abu Dhabi Institute to “develop greater understanding of this issue”.

“The goal of this project will be to identify potential solutions, upon which we – or others – could act, and to contribute to the important work that is under way in this area.”