Strike over as Arabtec builders in UAE go back to work

A two-day strike by construction workers over pay ended yesterday when the men were taken by bus back to their building sites.

DUBAI // A two-day strike by construction workers over pay ended yesterday when the men were taken by bus back to their building sites.
Workers from Arabtec Construction had refused to leave their accommodation in Abu Dhabi and Dubai on Saturday.
The men, mostly from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, wanted their Dh350 monthly food allowance paid with their salaries rather than the three daily meals provided by the company. They earn between Dh650 and Dh1,200 a month.
Police were called to a labour camp in Jebel Ali yesterday after some men refused to go to work. The Ministry of Labour sent a specialist team to meet the striking workers. Arabtec said it was working with the ministry to resolve the dispute.
"The workers went on strike because they wanted additions to their monthly salaries," said Humaid bin Deemas, the ministry undersecretary.
"However, their contracts include the salaries they agreed on in addition to three meals daily, health insurance and transportation and residence," Mr bin Deemas said.
After being told their demands would not be met, most workers decided to return to work.
"We have all come back on duty," said a Bangladeshi worker, who earns Dh650 a month.
"The police told us to go back and we did. What can we do if they don't give us an increase?
"We have come all the way from Bangladesh after taking loans. We have to work here to pay these loans back."
Mr bin Deemas said wage increases were awarded at a company's discretion.
"Raises to the salaries of private sector workers are based on evaluating the worker's production and experience."
Dubai Police said some of the men decided to quit their jobs rather than return to work.
"We told them anybody who wants to work is welcome to start, and it is up to them if anybody does not want to work," said Col Mohammed Al Murr, head of the force's human rights department.
Col Al Murr said the men who no longer wanted to work for Arabtec would be allowed to return home, although he did not have numbers for how many had opted to leave,
"My staff in the camp are helping them go back and they will be given their rights."
He said the men who had been on strike would have no deductions from their salaries. "If they had done any damage, it would have been illegal. But they were at their camps."
A labourer at the Jebel Ali camp said police had asked the men if they wanted to resume work, and most decided to get on the buses to take them to building sites.
"Many of us took the bus," said the worker, who earns Dh1,200 a month. He said he was back at his site and would continue to work as usual now the strike was over.
"We only wanted them to pay us the Dh350 food allowance instead of providing us meals."
Mr bin Deemas said Arabtec paid all its workers through the ministry-approved Wage Protection System. The ministry team also checked that conditions in the labour camps it visited met the ministry's standards.
A worker at the Damac Heights building in Dubai Marina, an Arabtec site, said men had been brought in by bus as usual. "They have all punched their cards and gone to the rest area."
Arabtec has more than 40,000 employees ans is one of the largest construction firms in the UAE.
An official at the Bangladesh consulate said its staff had visited Arabtec's Al Barsha camp and spoke to Bangladeshi workers along with the police and the labour ministry.
In 2011, 70 workers from the company were arrested on charges of instigating a 3,000-man protest over wages. In November 2007, about 30,000 Arabtec workers went on a 10-day strike to demand salary increases.

pkannan@thenational.ae
hdajani@thenational.ae
* Additional reporting by Reuters

EDITOR'S PICKS
NEWSLETTERS