By Eman Al Baik and Riyasbabu, Khaleej Times, 23 March 2006
DUBAI — A violent protest by over 5,000 workers over alleged mistreatment by their supervisors, arbitrary salary deductions, non-payment of overtime, and lack of medical facilities at the worksite has seriously disrupted the project of two prestigious construction project in Dubai — the Burj Dubai and the new terminal of Dubai International Airport.
The protest by employees of Al Naboodah Laing O’Rourke, which began on Tuesday evening, turned violent as infuriated workers damaged nearly two dozen company vehicles, smashed office property at the Burj Dubai project site, and destroyed several machines and official documents. The agitation lasted till late last morning and has resulted in an estimated combined loss of about 3.5 million Dirhams, according to Lieutenant Colonel Rashid Bakheet, member of the Permanent Committee of Labour Affairs in Dubai.
Their fury was reportedly triggered off by a delay in their pick-up by company buses from their labour camp, said Lieutenant Riyadh Abdul Rahman Shafee, Head of the Labour Salary Committee of the Dubai Police Human Rights Department.
Between 2,400 and 2,500 workers reached the vast work site yesterday (Wednesday) but refused to do any work. The stoppage of work at the Burj Dubai project, which involves the construction of the world’s tallest building, sparked a sympathy strike by another batch of about 2,500 of their colleagues at the Dubai International Airport’s new terminal project site.
The protesters demanded the installation of more attendance recording machines, saying it takes them a long time to register their attendance because of their large numbers. To make matters worse, this leads to salary deductions for work delays.
Representatives from Dubai Police, the Permanent Committee of Labour Affairs in Dubai and the Ministry of Labour rushed to the project sites, where angry workers had also attacked security personnel and brazenly refused to work. "They chased the security officers at the site and beat them up. I have never seen workers so angry," an eyewitness said.
One worked pointed out, "Everyday we have had to wait in long queues for over an hour just to punch our attendance cards and this leads to salary cuts. We work up to 6pm but the buses always come late and we end up working till 8pm – for which we get no overtime."
Workers have also alleged that some foremen beat up workers and prevent them from praying. They have also complained that they are threatened with sacking if they do not obey orders or dare complain.
However, Lt. Sahfee said that when questioned the foremen denied all these allegations as baseless. “All these problems will be inquired into by the company’s administration,” he added. The workers had demanded the company managers to provide them with better medical facilities at the project site, including a vehicle to transport workers to a hospital in case of work injury, Lt. Sahfee said.
Another demand of the workers was that they should all be given their weekly day off on Friday and annual holidays, he said. About 10,000 workers are working round-the-clock on a shift system at the Burj Dubai Project. On Fridays, workers are assigned to work on a rotation basis.
All these issues will now be discussed with the company and some viable solution will be reached within the next two days, Lt. Sahfee stressed.
Salah Bilal Faraj Al Falsi from the Permanent Committee of Labour Affairs in Dubai assured that there is no delay in salary payments, but the workers have demanded a set date for these payment every month.
Now that various authorities concerned, including Dubai police, have intervened the employer have already been advised not to deduct salary for late attendance for which the workers are not at fault; the installation of more attendance registration machines; and no loss of salary for the protest period.
Salah added the workers have now gone back to work and also thanked the officials for settling their problems.
Responding to a Khaleej Times query regarding the incident, Al Naboodah Laing O’Rourke issued a statement saying: "Regrettably over the last 24 hours there has been unrest on certain of our projects in Dubai as a consequence of misinformation and misunderstanding with some of our workforce."
"These issues have now been addressed and resolved through official channels with the assistance of the Dubai Labour Ministry and representatives from our directly engaged workforce."
"We are pleased to report that following positive discussions the employees on our sites are now returning to work."