Unpaid labourers take their case to Indian embassy

Carpenters on Saadiyat Island say they are owed more than four months' wages and face eviction for refusing to work.

January 6, 2010 / Mussafa / Labourers from Al Mushrif Oasis Technical Works who work on Saddiyat island are being forced to leave the accommodations in Mussafa after refusing to work because of nonpayment by their employer. Most have not been paid in 3 months with most not being paid for as many as 5 months (Sammy Dallal / The National) *** Local Caption ***  sd-010610-labour-08.jpg
Powered by automated translation

ABU DHABI // A group of labourers have stopped working on a project on Saadiyat Island, claiming they have not been paid for more than four months. The 23 carpenters work for Al Mushrif Oasis Technical Works, a Dubai-based company that does shuttering, carpentry and structural work for an engineering firm. The workers have approached the labour court in Dubai and their embassy to complain about the non-payment.

They were transferred from their previous project in Shahama and arrived in Abu Dhabi on December 18 to work on the island. "I don't want to stay here any more," said Jagdish Chaurasia, 23, from the state of Uttar Pradesh in India. "I want to go home. I just want my back pay because there has never been a month where we haven't begged, asking for pay." A representative for Abu Dhabi's Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC), which oversees the development of Saadiyat Island, said the company "is taking the matter very seriously and after investigation we can now confirm that talks have already taken place between the sub-contractor and employees to resolve this matter."

"TDIC requires all contractors to adhere to UAE laws regulating labour relations and working conditions," he added. Syed Mohammed Afsar, the company's supervisor, acknowledged that most of the workers had not been paid for at least five months, while some were owed two months. "I asked them with folded hands to give me more time," he said. "I need time. I have post-dated cheques but I cannot cash them now. I am waiting for more payments."

Mr Afsar said his company had a contract with Harsha Engineering and Contracting, a company based in Ras al Khaimah that he says owes him money. He said he had three post-dated cheques worth a combined Dh45,000 (US$12,250), with the first one dated for January 14. The other cheques are dated mid-month in February and March. However, Mr Afsar said yesterday that executives of the engineering firm had agreed to meet him tomorrow regarding another outstanding balance of Dh53,000.

When contacted by The National on Wednesday, Dilip Kumar, an executive with Harsha, said "there was a little problem with the money". He said the company was willing to honour the cheques that had been issued and all outstanding payments to the carpentry company would be paid off in a week's time. Meanwhile, the workers, who live in Musaffah, said they had spent most of their remaining wages trying to arrange transportation for 17 workers who are from the same village in India to visit their embassy.

"The embassy officials keep asking us to come back to meet with them, but they don't understand that even to arrange transportation for 17 of us, we had to borrow Dh100 to be able to make one trip for all of us," said Shatrugan Prasad, a worker. A spokesman from the Indian embassy said officials would visit the site where the workers live and talk to them. "The embassy has tried to pursue the matter from both sides. We are watching the issue and trying to settle the matter between the labourers and their employer in accordance to this country's guidelines," a representative from the embassy said.

On Wednesday afternoon, the workers were almost evicted from their accommodation in Musaffah for refusing to go to work. The camp manager, who refused to be named, said "if they are ready to work, they can stay here". They piled their baggage, sleeping blankets and mattresses onto the side of the road and waited. "They keep promising to pay us every month, and then a month comes and goes and we get nothing," said Ravinder Kumar, one of the workers. "How can we keep on working when we have no money for food?

"I hope they don't take us some place from here where we don't have access to the embassy or the courts." But Mr Afsar, who travelled from Dubai, re-negotiated their stay for the night. Members of the Indian community also provided meals that evening. sbhattacharya@thenational.ae