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In Dubai, years of abuse backfires

Rajesh S Kurup  |  Mumbai 

Low wages and poor working conditions.
The first-ever riot by expatriate workers was waiting to happen. Weighed down by maltreatment and broken promises on salary and housing fronts, expatriate workers have been a frustrated lot for years.
"Life for expatriates is hell. Low wages and at times physical abuse have made working conditions in the countries miserable," said Anthony Rebello, a Gulf-based labour law consultant.
He added this had been going on for years and the victims were both blue and white collar workers.
There are over 1.5 million Indians working in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with a majority based in the emirates of Dubai and Sharjah.
According to Muralidharan Nair, who returned from Dubai, white collar workers are paid 2,500-4,500 dirhams, which is a decent salary if housing and air tickets are provided. Nair says the labour class is paid very less, a driver 1,200-1,300 dirhams and a construction labour 700- 800 dirhams per month.
Mohammed Pasha, who works as a driver in Dubai, says labourers are made to stay at a place called Sonapur on the outskirts of Dubai city. Ten to 15 people live in a 6x4 room, a workday stretches up to 15 hours and coming late to office or absenteeism can lead to caning and extra work, he adds.
To top it all, there are companies which have not paid salaries for months. Passports are "confiscated" to prevent staff from fleeing and there are instances of employees being asked to foot the bill for their labour permits, he says.
This has resulted in many Indians sending their families home so that they can save money. "House rents are exorbitant and even though at the time of the interview, companies promise to pay, some of them don't," Pasha says.
The labour inspection section of the UAE brought these irregularities to the notice of the authorities but nothing was done, he says.
An executive of a leading Mumbai-based recruitment agency, G Gheewala Manpower Consultant, does not agree. "Things have changed a lot. Previously there were several incidents of workers not being given full salaries. Though there are no regulations to curb these practices, labourers are now more protected and their rights better safeguarded," he says.
Minister for Overseas Indians Vayalar Ravi said the government could not do much unless it got a written complaint. He said he was working on an amendment in the Indian Emigration Act (1983) to ensure that wherever Indian workers went to work, they were protected by law.
He, however, pointed out that Indian workers were subject to the laws of the country they were working in and could complain only if these were violated.
Three decades earlier, Kuwait had witnessed a similar agitation, said the managing director of recruitment company.
(With inputs from P R Sanjai, Kalpana Pathak & Our Delhi bureau)

First Published: Wed, March 29 2006. 00:00 IST