May 19, 2009

The Exploitation of Foreign Workers on Saadiyat Island

The Sponsorship System

Foreign construction workers in the UAE are subject to a sponsorship (or "kafala") system that places them in a highly dependent relationship to their employers. In conjunction with prohibitions (de facto or de jure) against unions, collective bargaining and striking, the sponsorship system grants employers an extraordinary degree of control over foreign workers, placing the workers at severe risk of exploitation.

The sponsorship process begins when a construction company in the UAE applies to the Work Permit Department of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs for work permits for foreign workers it seeks to employ.[47] The company must finalize the application within six months; in the interim, the company approaches the Immigration and Residency Department of the Ministry of Interior. This department, upon being shown that the company has applied for a work permit, will issue the company an employment visa that allows each sponsored worker to enter the UAE for a period of 30 days.[48] The company will then transfer that visa to a labor supply agency, either in the UAE or directly in a labor source country, which the company has contracted to supply the required number and types of workers – for example, unskilled laborers, semi-skilled masons and carpenters and steel fixers, and skilled crane operators, truck drivers, and welders.[49]

Once a worker arrives in the UAE on the basis of his employment visa, the company, as his sponsor, takes his passport and work permit to the Ministry of Interior immigration department. (The common employer practice of confiscating passports, which violates the worker's right to freedom of movement protected under UAE and international law, is discussed below; see "Confiscation of Passports, Freedom of Movement and Forced Labor.") The ministry stamps the worker's passport with a residency visa that includes the visa's date of issuance and validity period of up to three years, the worker's picture, profession, and employer.[50]

A foreign worker's legal ability to enter, live and work in the UAE depends on a single employer. UAE laws make it extremely difficult for workers to escape from this dependency after entering the UAE or beginning employment. If a foreign construction worker in the UAE quits, his employer will request the Ministry of Labor to cancel his labor card; a foreign worker who remains in the UAE more than two months after his labour card is cancelled will be fined.[51] The employer will then take the worker's passport to the Ministry of Interior, which upon being shown the cancelled labor card will cancel the foreign worker's visa, stamp his passport with a six month ban on returning to the UAE, and arrange for his deportation to his home country.[52]

The employer is encouraged to take these steps by a legal framework intended to prevent foreign laborers from working for anyone other than their original sponsors – to the extent that the sponsor bears the cost of repatriating the worker.[53] A worker who leaves his original sponsor and, without the consent of that sponsor and the permission of the UAE government, finds work elsewhere is considered to be in the UAE illegally, an 'offense punishable with deportation and an automatic one year ban from returning to the UAE.[54] The original sponsor who failed to report the "absconding" worker will be fined 50,000 dirhams ($13,624)[55]; the illegal worker's new employer will be fined and banned from obtaining work permits from the Ministry of Labor until the employee is dismissed.[56] Other penalties apply to the sponsor of a worker whose labor card expired before he leaves the country.[57] Human Rights Watch interviewed several "absconded" workers in Dubai and Abu Dhabi who did not work on Saadiyat Island; they said their illegal status made them vulnerable to exploitation because employers knew the workers had no bargaining power to set their wages and no recourse if the company paid them late or withheld their wages.

UAE laws make it extremely difficult for construction workers legally to find new jobs with different employers – a process known as "transferring sponsorship." The federal UAE labor law, dating from 1980, states that workers may quit their jobs without prior notice if employers fail to honor their contractual or legal obligations.[58] Nonetheless, prior to 2005 construction workers were not among the categories of workers allowed to transfer sponsors, leaving it unclear whether they could seek work after quitting an abusive employer.[59] Current law requires foreign workers wishing to transfer sponsorship to obtain their original employer's consent and pay fees far beyond what most construction workers could afford, except where the original employer failed to pay their wages for two months.[60] In this case workers do not need to obtain a "no objection" certificate from their original employer, but the new sponsor must apply to sponsor the worker and the worker must submit a report to the inspection department.[61] The effectiveness of the law is unclear; according to a Dubai-based manpower agency, "it is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain permission from the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of the Interior for the transfer of sponsorship regardless of the fact that the existing employer agrees to the transfer."[62]

As well, the law excludes workers who suffer other forms of abuse, such as overcrowded, unsanitary and dangerous housing, which continues to be a severe problem.[63] According to news reports, the economic recession has led to an escalation in overcrowding and other poor treatment of workers at labor camps. The Ministry of Labor's chief inspector said that some companies, to cut costs, have added as much as 40 percent to the population of their labor camps (without increasing space for accommodation), and have cut workers' meals from three a day to one.[64] Alex Zalami, senior advisor to the Ministry of Labor, told Human Rights Watch that the UAE was considering proposals to include "housing rights and other" violations as grounds for an "unconditional release" from sponsorship.[65]

In practice, even if some workers might have been eligible for cost-free sponsorship transfers, the foreign workers Human Rights Watch interviewed on Saadiyat Island believed that their only options were to remain in their jobs, or to quit, be deported and banned from returning to the UAE for one year. None were willing to lodge formal complaints against their employers. The reason, in many cases, is that they are deeply indebted and could not afford to lose their jobs.

Labor Supply Agencies

A foreign construction worker's first step on the journey to the UAE is to contact a labor supply agency in his home country. The worker pays fees in exchange for the promise of a job in the UAE – specifically, for access to the labor permits and visas the UAE government issues only through UAE nationals.[66] The local labor supply agency receives these documents directly from a UAE-based company or via a UAE-based agency acting as an intermediary. In cases where the company requires skilled workers, the agency may conduct preliminary interviews and administer tests to applicants in the source country, but where the company is seeking unskilled laborers the transaction is simpler: all workers we interviewed paid the agency a fee and waited for the agency to arrange their employment in the UAE.[67]

The cost to UAE employers of applying for labor permits for foreign workers is 200 dirhams ($54) per worker; within six months, the company must pay another fee of from 1000 to 3000 dirhams ($272 to $814) for the approval of the permits.[68] The price of the latter fee is determined by whether the company abides by UAE guidelines on maintaining a foreign workforce that is not overly-dependent on workers of a single nationality.[69] Employers who do not abide by these guidelines must also pay bank guarantees of 3000 dirhams per new worker, which the Ministry of Labor can liquidate if the employer fails to uphold the worker's legal or contractual rights, as determined by the Ministry or a court, or fails to provide a return ticket to the worker's country of origin at the end of his contract.[70]

According to UAE law, construction companies in the UAE may contract only with licensed employment and labor supply agencies.[71] In order to receive a license, these agencies must "submit an undertaking" to the Ministry of Labor that they will "not accept any commission or financial award from workers in return for employing them within the UAE or bringing them in from abroad."[72] These agencies must charge the construction companies, rather than the foreign construction workers, fees that will cover their costs. UAE laws fail, however, to penalize construction or other companies that continue to do business with agencies and recruiters that charge workers unlawful fees.

Moreover, as is discussed in this section, from the point of view of UAE-based employers, the least expensive agencies to work with would be those that pass on their fees to the workers. Thus construction companies have an incentive to work with agencies that exploit migrants.

Human Rights Watch noted in our 2006 report that despite UAE laws expressly prohibiting UAE recruiters from charging workers any fees, four of five recruiters interviewed admitted to flouting the law, and "every single construction worker interviewed said he had been required to pay up-front travel and visa fees to his recruiting agent."[73]

The same uniform pattern appeared during our research in 2008. Every construction worker Human Rights Watch spoke to in Abu Dhabi reported paying large fees to recruitment agencies.  Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch paid manpower agencies in their home countries from $1800 to over $4100 – a multiple of two to nine times the home country's per capita income.[74] The labour counselor at the Embassy of Bangladesh in Abu Dhabi said that some Bangladeshi workers paid up to $5000 to agencies to come to the UAE.[75] As noted, in order to sponsor a foreign worker, a UAE company is required to pay work permit fees amounting to roughly 1200 dirhams (US $327), plus refundable bank guarantees in some cases.

Workers who live in remote areas – which are generally more likely to be impoverished than urban centers – go through one or more local agents before they reach the main agency, paying fees at each step. According to the supervisor of a labor camp where around 250 Thai employees of Zueblin lived,

The Thais here mostly paid agents 50,000 Baht ($1450) to get to the UAE, but before that they often had to pay a broker to get to the agent. The main agencies are in Bangkok, but the secondary ones are in the provinces. You might have to pay much more. You might have to pay up to 15 per cent interest a month if you've got no collateral to get a loan to pay the fee.[76]

In our previous report on Dubai, Human Rights Watch found that workers who cannot raise money for the visa fees by borrowing from friends and family or selling land resort to taking loans with exorbitant monthly interest rates as high as 10 or 11 percent. Precisely the same problem persists in Abu Dhabi today. According to the labor counselor at the Bangladesh Embassy in Abu Dhabi, "The agency usually demands its money up front, and won't provide loans, so the workers get the money elsewhere, if they must, from money lenders."[77] Workers Human Rights Watch spoke to said they had sold their farmland, homes, and personal belongings to raise money to pay labor supply agency fees, and a significant proportion of the workers interviewed for the current report also said they were obliged to borrow from money lenders at interest rates of from two to ten percent per month. A Zueblin worker from Madras said that to pay the agency's fee, he had sold part of his land, his wife's gold jewelry, borrowed from relatives, and took out a 90,000 Indian rupee loan ($1800).[78] A Bangladeshi man working for Leighton said, "I took out a loan at five percent interest to pay the agency. I sold my cows and took out a mortgage on my home."[79]

Many workers must work for months or years simply to pay off their loans. A 23 year old Al Habtoor laborer said he still owed 30,000 rupees ($600) on a 120,000 rupee ($2400) loan he had taken out two years ago.[80] Two surveyors from Kerala and Tamil Nadu, India said it had taken them two of the three years they had worked for Al Habtoor, including five months on Saadiyat Island, to pay off their 100,000 rupee ($2000) loans.[81]  A Bangladeshi worker, who paid an agency 195,000 taka ($3250) two and a half years ago, told Human Rights Watch, "I sold my land and took out a 100,000 taka ($1650) loan with 10 per cent interest per month. I've paid it back now, but I spent absolutely nothing on myself for a year."[82] Another Bangladeshi man, who had been working for 10 months on Saadiyat, paid 220,000 taka ($3650) to an agency; he sold some of his land, mortgaged the rest, and took out a loan on which he owes 120,000 taka ($2000) annually. "If I only sent money for the loan and none for my family," he said, "it would take me two years to pay off."[83]  A Pakistani mason, who had been working for Zueblin for one year on a bridge linking Saadiyat Island to Abu Dhabi, paid an agency 145,000 Pakistan rupees ($2340) "to get my work visa. I paid the fee with a no-interest loan from my relatives. But it's going to be hard to pay off my loan even in two or three years because I need to give money to my family; I can't just put it all into paying back the loan.[84]

Several workers, all of them illiterate, did not know how much of their loans they still had to pay off.[85] An Al Habtoor employee from Andara Pradesh had worked in the UAE for three years after paying an agency 120,000 rupees ($2400) for his work visa and another 5,000 rupees ($100) for a plane ticket. "I took out a loan for the 120,000 at three per cent monthly interest. I paid off my principal but I don't know how much interest I still owe."[86]

According to workers' rights NGOs, news reports, and labor attachés at the embassies of labor-sending countries in Abu Dhabi, many construction companies in the UAE not only fail to pay for foreign workers' work permits and visas, but sell these work documents to labor agencies for a profit. According to the labor counselor at the Embassy of Bangladesh, "The companies sell the work permits to the agencies, and then they bargain over who will pay for the rest of the costs, like the worker's plane tickets." Having purchased the visas from the original sponsors/companies, labor agencies in the UAE or in the labor-supply country may in turn then re-sell them to other agencies or sub-agencies before they reach the worker. In an interview with Gulf News, a UAE newspaper, the director of a Dubai-based manpower supply agency explained that his agency required each laborer to pay a "visa fee" of 4,500 dirhams ($1200), of which roughly half went to the sponsoring company "while the rest is divided between the agents" in the UAE and in the worker's home country.[87]

In some cases, even for construction companies not selling work visas, it is clear to them which agencies are charging unlawful fees and which are not: some "cheap" agencies require only a nominal fee, if anything, from the company for providing them with workers, while others charge a much higher fee, up to $4,000. "It's clear that if we choose the cheaper agency, they're going to get their fee from the other end, from the worker. So it's a cost issue; if we pay the recruiting agency that is charging us, it's going to cost us a lot more for those workers. So sometimes we just close our eyes and go with the cheaper agency, and don't ask any questions."[88] According to media reports, employees of the Abu Dhabi residency and naturalization department of the Ministry of Interior have engaged in selling visas illegally.[89]

Human Rights Watch did not determine whether any of the construction companies with contracts on Saadiyat Island have engaged in selling work visas. Nor was it possible to determine, by interviewing workers, whether the labor-supply agencies they deal with in their home countries were involved with secondary recruitment agencies in the UAE or dealt directly with the construction companies operating on Saadiyat Island.

In response to question from Human Rights Watch, Al Habtoor Leighton Group responded that it does not pay any agency fees itself, but claimed it did not deal with agencies that charge "unreasonable" fees to workers due to awareness of "systemic flaws in many of the systems relating to the international treatment of labor."[90] Al Habtoor Leighton did not state what it considers to be "unreasonable" fees, or how or if it seeks to determine which agencies charge unreasonable fees, or if it has terminated any relationships with agencies on that basis. Ed. Zueblin AG said that it pays all agency and travel fees and does not withhold these costs from workers.[91] None of the other companies we wrote to responded to our questions.

Deception Regarding Conditions of Employment

Heavily-indebted foreign workers have mortgaged their futures for months or years to work in the UAE. Many of the workers on Saadiyat Island were willing to take on large debts because labor supply agencies in their home countries lied about how much their salary would be upon arrival in the UAE. An Indian carpenter from Sindh province, who had been transferred to Saadiyat from another Al Habtoor worksite, said he paid 100,000 rupees ($2000) to an agency in India four years ago. To pay the agency's fee, he took out a 50,000 rupee ($1000) loan from a local money-lender at five per cent per month interest. "I've paid him 95,000 rupees so far, but I still owe 100,000. He has title to my land, and he will keep it if I don't pay off the loan."[92] The agency promised him a basic salary of 750 dirhams, but his actual salary is 500 dirhams. A Bangladeshi worker from Chittagong, who had been working for Al Habtoor on Saadiyat Island for six months, said he paid 200,000 taka ($3300 US at the time) to an agency, for which he had taken out a 100,000 taka ($1650) loan. "If I pay it off within a year, it will cost me 130,000 taka ($2150)," he said, "but if I fail, then the interest doubles."[93] He said the agency promised he would be earning a basic wage of $218, but that he was being paid a basic monthly wage of only $136.

In some cases labor supply agencies promised workers more than double the salary they actually received upon arrival in the UAE. A surveyor's assistant who had been working on Saadiyat for 25 months said he paid an agency 175,000 taka (roughly $2900) in exchange for what he thought would be a good job in the UAE.

I sold land to pay for part of the agent's fee, and had to take out a loan for the rest. The agency said I'd get a basic salary of 700 dirhams ($190) per month, but when I got here my salary was only 350 dirhams ($95)! When I first came here I was going to save money for a house, get married, have a child, but now, this isn't really possible.[94]

Another surveyor's assistant for Al Jaber, from Sharjatpur, Bangladesh, said sold his house to pay an agency 200,000 taka ($3300), on the promise of a job paying 1100 dirhams ($299) a month.  When he arrived on Saadiyat 13 months ago, he also earned only 350 dirhams.[95]

The problem extended to every company whose workers Human Rights Watch interviewed on Saadiyat Island. Many workers said their actual wages were roughly 25 to 40 per cent less than what they were promised.[96] A security guard from Kerala, India, working on Saadiyat Island for Group4 Securicor said his monthly wage was 960 dirhams ($260), including overtime.

The agency told me I'd get 1500 dirhams ($410) a month and Fridays off, but I don't get any days off. And I get fined if my necktie isn't tied right, or my socks are the wrong color – that's 100 dirhams. I've been here for a year. When I got here, a bag of rice cost three dirhams, now it's six. I could've earned more money if I'd stayed back home as a Maruti car salesman.[97]

Although the most common deception workers reported related to salaries, some reported other kinds of dishonesty. Three workers for Zueblin from Jaipour, India, said that a labor supply agency promised they would each receive a three year work contract upon arrival in the UAE, but after nine months they had to get a new contract. "We've been in the UAE for ten months," one of the men said, "and our second contract is only valid for six months." A Pakistani man working for Al Habtoor complained that the profession listed in his work permit was "steel fixer," a semi-skilled position, "but I'm being employed as a common laborer putting up scaffolding on the bridge to the island, and making less money."[98]

Workers have virtually no ability to seek redress from labor supply agencies in their home countries after they arrive in the UAE, which is when the agencies' fraud comes to light; and none of the workers interviewed who had complained to their UAE employers said they received any positive response.

In a newspaper interview in 2006, Under-secretary of Labour Hamid bin Demas said that the UAE government is not responsible for any employment contracts made outside the country. "In such cases, the manpower agency responsible can only be tried in the country where the contracts were signed."[99]

According to the Bangladesh Embassy's labor counselor, a major evidentiary difficulty is that few workers had written copies of contracts from the home-country agencies. Without such contracts the embassies could not help workers could pursue remedies in any jurisdiction.[100] With the exception of two security guards, none of the workers Human Rights Watch interviewed had copies of contracts signed with agencies, and many said these contracts were oral.[101]

Lack of Effective Responses to Labor Agency Problems

The UAE should enforce laws requiring agencies to charge their fees to employers rather than to migrant workers and should pass laws that expressly penalize employers who do business with such agencies. The UAE's failure to enforce the laws applying to agencies, and the legal loophole for employers, leaves indebted workers unable to afford to quit their jobs and thus vulnerable to abuse at the hands of their UAE employers. A Pakistani carpenter working for Zueblin told a joke to describe his situation:

A musician sits down next to another man. The musician begins to sing. An audience gathers around him. He keeps singing and singing. Eventually everyone else leaves, but the first man stays. The musician says, "I see you appreciate my singing." The man says, "Would you please get up, you're sitting on my carpet." It's like this for us. We're not staying here because we're happy but because we owe money.[102]

The UAE government has taken several steps in response to the gross abuses of migrant construction workers by labor supply agencies. On the international level, the UAE-led "Abu Dhabi Declaration" states that labor-sending countries in Asia and labor receiving countries in the GCC will work together to protect migrant workers' rights and facilitate migration. Pursuant to the declaration, the UAE, India and the Philippines will be studying small groups of migrant workers to identify best practices to achieving these goals.[103] Apparently the study will focus on 1,500 workers, as some enter and as some leave the UAE and are reintegrated into their communities.[104] The UAE government reportedly has signed memoranda of understanding with labor-source countries, one of the aims of which is to enforce those countries' laws with regard to agencies charging workers excessive fees.[105] The UAE reportedly signed an MOU with India in December 2006, which was supposed to have established a government-run labor supply agency intended to bypass the role of recruiting agents.[106]  However, no country has made these memoranda public, nor has any made available any information on their implementation. What does remain clear is that the practice of agencies charging workers fees prohibited by UAE law remains ubiquitous.

Labor-source country agencies are undoubtedly part of the problem, as are UAE-based agencies that act as middlemen for construction companies. However, if construction companies in the UAE fail to pay all labor agency costs, continue to use agencies that charge workers fees, or sell work visas to agencies and allow those costs to be passed on to workers, they would also be responsible for workers' indebtedness – indebtedness which increases workers' vulnerability to exploitation by those same construction companies. Construction companies that fail to take measures to avoid doing business with such labor agencies and sub-agencies, fail to inquire whether workers have paid such fees, or to reimburse workers for such fees, would be similarly participants in the abuse and exploitation of such workers.

Human Rights Watch sought information from construction companies operating on Saadiyat Island, as well as from TDIC, about their policies and practices regarding labor supply agencies that charge workers fees for work visas (or for plane fare, which under UAE law should also be wholly paid for by the employer). As noted, only Ed. Zueblin AG and Al Habtoor Leighton Group responded. Human Rights Watch interviewed numerous workers employed on both contractors' Saadiyat Island projects who said they had been required to pay high fees to agencies and that their employers had not repaid them these costs.

Officials from the embassies of several labor-sending countries said they were working with the UAE to implement a "unified contract" scheme, which would require UAE construction companies to fulfill the same contractual terms that workers agree to with agencies in their home countries.[107] However, such a contract will not necessarily address the fees paid to recruiting agencies.

The experience of several workers in the hospitality industry whom Human Rights Watch interviewed suggested methods for UAE construction companies to avoid working with unscrupulous labor supply agencies. Some hotel workers in Abu Dhabi and in Dubai said that they had applied directly to the hotels from their home countries – usually after learning about job opportunities from friends already employed by the hotel – and avoided the need to pay agencies altogether.[108] Unlike most foreign hotel staff in the UAE, many construction workers are illiterate, but enabling literate construction workers to have direct access to job opportunities via online application forms would nonetheless be a welcome step. Hotel management at the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) says IHG requires the labor agencies it contracts with not to charge workers fees, and described a system whereby human resources staff solicit in-person and anonymous feedback from newly-arrived foreign workers at IHG hotels in the UAE to determine if they have paid fees to agencies. As a result of information initially received from workers, IHG has terminated its relationships with several agencies, including one in China.[109]

Coercive Contractual Circumstances

Companies require workers to sign new contracts upon arrival in the UAE. These contracts are based on a Ministry of Labor model contract, written in Arabic and English. Most workers interviewed said they did not understand these languages, and that they signed their contracts without receiving any explanation of the contractual terms. No construction workers we interviewed had copies of their UAE work contracts.

Workers sign these contracts in a coercive atmosphere. Some workers said companies threatened to deport them if they refused to sign. The driver for a road-building crew on Saadiyat Island said that a labor supply agency had promised him and 30 other men from Andra Pradesh jobs with a basic salary of 700 dirhams ($190) in the UAE; when they arrived and the Al Jaber company told them to sign contracts for a basic salary of 350 dirhams ($95), "We refused to sign anything. But after a month we all signed, because they were going to send us back."[110]

Because workers have already paid large fees to manpower agencies, they are not in a position to bargain over these contracts. Many workers interviewed said that their employers instructed them to sign UAE work contracts quickly and under pressure. An Abu Dhabi National Hotels employee said he had to sign his contract immediately after he arrived in the UAE: "they made us sign them on the bus on the way from Dubai airport at four in the morning." [111] A Leighton employee said that when his group of workers arrived in the UAE, "We had to sign three or four copies [of the contract] really fast, they just flipped up the bottom of the pages where we signed," implying that there was no opportunity to read the contracts or ask for the terms to be explained.[112]

Several workers said company representatives told them to sign or fingerprint a blank sheet of paper, and afterwards were told that the company would fill in this sheet. Some workers said they believed this sheet was their contract, whereas others did not know what it was and were afraid it could be used against them. "I didn't see any contract," one worker said. "We just waited in a queue, and the Al Jaber people said that if you're illiterate you put your fingerprint on a blank page; they didn't explain anything."[113] Several other Al Jaber employees also said that after they arrived in the UAE, company officials instructed illiterate workers to put their fingerprints on blank pieces of paper, and did not explain what these papers were for. The workers said they were afraid that the company could somehow use these papers against them if they complained about working conditions or asked for pay increases.[114]

It is not clear how or whether companies use these sheets of paper, but the answer may be related to requirements in UAE labor law. The law requires employers to pay employees an "end of employment gratuity" – a lump sum paid at the end of the employment contract before the worker leaves the UAE, which is calculated based on the time a worker stayed in the job.[115] The worker must sign off upon receiving his gratuity, and his sponsor must present his signature to the Ministry of Labor in order to cancel his work permit. As the labor attaché at the Philippines Embassy noted,

A worker's work permit will be cancelled when the sponsor goes to the Ministry of Labor, but the worker first has to sign off, saying that they've received all of the gratuity that's due to them. But they don't have to be present when the permit is cancelled. Some small businesses have forged the workers' signature.[116]

Thus companies might pay the worker a "gratuity" that is less than what the law requires but use the worker's signature or fingerprint to forge his acceptance of the gratuity. However, a legal researcher at the Ministry of Labor complaints department in Abu Dhabi insisted that she would not terminate the work permit of any employee who did not personally appear to assert that his employer had paid him his entitlements.[117]

In response to Human Rights Watch's questions, Ed. Zueblin AG responded that it provided all workers with copies of their UAE work contracts in English and Arabic; never asked any employee to sign or fingerprint a blank sheet of paper; and that, before the workers' arrival in the UAE, any contracts were translated into the workers' native languages by the labor supply agencies in their home countries.[118] The Al Habtoor Leighton Group responded that it ensures work contracts are given to each employee in his native language before the worker departs for the UAE and that translators are available at the time of signing.[119]

Based on the unanimity of responses on this point from workers we interviewed, it seems clear that companies are failing to adequately explain the terms of workers' contracts in a language the workers can understand and in a non-coercive setting or to provide them with copies of the contracts.

Confiscation of Passports, Freedom of Movement and Forced Labor

In Dubai and Sharjah in 2006, Human Rights Watch found that all 107 migrant workers interviewed, including 60 construction workers, said their employers confiscated their passports upon their arrival in the UAE. Our 2006 report concluded that despite acknowledging the illegality of the practice, the UAE government had "not taken any steps to put an end to it." More than two years later, precisely the same unlawful practice continues in Abu Dhabi. Every worker Human Rights Watch interviewed for the current report said his employer had confiscated his passport.

Confiscating passports violates the right to freedom of movement and is prohibited by UAE law.[120] In 2006, the director of the legal department at the Ministry of Labour told a UAE newspaper, "Retaining workers' passports amounts to forcible work in violation of the ... ILO Convention on the Abolition of Forced Labour, to which the UAE is a signatory." The official, Aref Mirza, added that a worker whose employer withholds his passport and refuses to return it can quit without a notice period and demand compensation for dismissal.[121] Nonetheless, the newspaper noted that the ministries of "Finance and Industry, Interior, Labour and Social Affairs are retaining passports of their expatriate staff. Some ministries keep passports on instructions of the Civil Service Department, others on directives from the Ministry of Finance and Industry, which demand that passports of cashiers must be retained."

The UAE sponsorship system gives employers incentives to control their employees by confiscating their passports. Sponsors may want to control employees to avoid liability, since the sponsor will be fined if one of its workers is discovered working for another employer, unless the sponsor has previously requested the cancellation of his work visa.[122]

Over and above these possible considerations is the desire to guarantee the continued availability of the workers' cheap labor. Some companies confiscate workers' passports in order to "protect their investment," since they have incurred costs for each foreign worker, including work permit and residency visa fees, bank guarantees, recruitment agency fees, transportation, housing, and medical care – although as noted, many companies reportedly never pay agency fees and instead recoup some of these expenses by passing them along to the labor agency that then charges workers for their visas and plane fare.

TDIC wrote to Human Rights Watch that "we require contractors to confirm that they do not engage in or support the use of forced labour and do not withhold employee passports and wages."[123] However, in response to Human Rights Watch's questions, both Ed. Zueblin AG and Al Habtoor Leighton Group stated that they held their workers' passports. Ed. Zueblin AG cited "protection against theft," "centralized monitoring of expiry dates," and "access to passports in case of governmental queries" as its rationale for holding passports.[124] These rationales suggest that government officials are aware that Zueblin requires its workers to surrender their passports, and indeed periodically inspects the passports at the central location where Zueblin is holding them. These rationales do not justify depriving workers of documents which are their personal property and which are needed to realize the right of freedom of movement. Zueblin's response continued, "there were no restrictions for workers to have their passports returned at any time." The Al Habtoor Leighton Group responded to our questions by stating that "while it is not company policy to store passports, it is a common practice in the region. HLG has told Human Rights Watch it believes that the security offered at its head office for such important documentation is superior to that which is available within its construction villages," implying that workers' passports are taken to a location some distance from the labor camps where they live.[125] HLG stated that its workers could "access" their passports if they wished.

An additional freedom of movement concern is that workers have only very limited access to transport to leave and return to Saadiyat Island. In 1991, the Ministry of Labor designated Saadiyat Island as a place "remote from towns and not covered by regular means of transport," in the sense of Article 101 of Labor Law No. 8 of 1980.[126] As such, UAE regulations require "masters" of workers on Saadiyat Island to provide them with, among other facilities, suitable transport from the worksite, such as ensuring the availability of paid buses and shared taxis.[127] Workers already living on Saadiyat Island said their companies provided buses that took them off the island, often on Friday afternoons; some workers said the primary purpose of the trip was to wire their remittance money home.[128] Several workers for Al Jaber said their company provided them only with monthly transport off the island. [129] Other workers say they have left the island only once or twice in months, or not at all.[130]

The lack of access to transportation from Saadiyat Island severely limits workers' ability to seek redress for abuse, because it may render complaints mechanisms inaccessible. The assistant manager of a large labor camp on Saadiyat told Human Rights Watch that "the buses take off once a week" for Abu Dhabi, to allow the workers to remit money home.[131] Many workers confirmed they could leave Saadiyat Island only on Fridays, when their employers provided transportation to Abu Dhabi – but the Ministry of Labor complaints department in Moussafa and the Shari`a Court in Abu Dhabi city, the governmental bodies to which workers may submit complaints of labor rights violations, are not open on Friday, like many other governmental institutions in the UAE.

Moreover, workers whose work permits were originally issued in other emirates, such as Dubai, are required to travel to the Ministry of Labor office in that emirate to file complaints. Such travel would be extremely difficult for workers on Saadiyat Island.[132]

In some cases, the degree of control employers exert over migrant workers amounts to forced labor. Several employees of Abu Dhabi National Hotels Compass (ADNH) on Saadiyat Island told Human Rights Watch they wanted to quit their various jobs, but that their employer had threatened to fine them before returning their passports if they quit before completing two years' service. One of the men summed up their problems:

We arrived in the UAE in June. Before we started working on Saadiyat Island we were kept in a camp in Jebel Ali [near Dubai] for 48 days without work or pay. Then we found that the agent in Nepal lied to us. He said we'd be working at a five star hotel. He told the truth about our basic salary, which is 800 dirhams ($217), but we were counting on getting tips and a service charge. Also, we work 12 hours a day, and he said we'd be working 10 hours total. The recruiter for ADNH interviewed all four of us in Kathmandu, and he also said we'd be working at a business hotel. We looked up ADNH online and were convinced, and we paid 50,000 [Nepalese] rupees ($680) to the agency to get here.

The employee said that upon arrival in Dubai, "we had to sign our contracts on the bus from the airport at 4 in the morning," but that ADNH had not provided him or his coworkers with copies of their contracts. He continued:

We'd like to leave now, but the company said it would cost us a 2000 dirham fine ($540). If we had left the UAE within two months, the company says we could've avoided the fine, because we were still on a temporary permit, but now we have to pay the fine because they say they've done all the work to get the real work permit. The company has all our passports. We can't afford to leave. I went to a manager here and complained, and she said if you don't like it here, you can go home.[133]

These ADNH workers' treatment amounts to forced labor in the following ways: even the option of quitting, which usually carries the penalty of deportation and an automatic ban from working in the UAE, is unavailable, because the employer has threatened the workers with an exorbitant financial penalty in exchange for turning the workers' passports in to the relevant governmental authorities and allowing them to leave the country. The workers' only alternative would be to quit and work illegally for another employer, which could subject them to detention, deportation and a lifetime ban on employment in the UAE.

Article 2(1) of ILO Convention No. 29 defines forced labor as "all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily". This encompasses forced labour exacted by public authorities as well as by private persons. States that have ratified the Convention have both an obligation to abstain and an obligation to "suppress the use of forced or compulsory labour in all its forms within the shortest possible period."[134]

According to the ILO, "The extraction of work or services 'under the menace of any penalty' does not mean that some form of penal sanction is applied; the penalty might take the form of a loss of rights or privileges." Among the elements the ILO identifies as pointing to a "forced labour situation," two are particularly relevant to Saadiyat Island:

Retention of passports and identity documents: It is not uncommon, in particular in the case of migrant workers, that the employer takes the worker's identity documents and/or passport ... and refuses to return them to the individual unless he or she continues to work for the employer.
Threat of denunciation to the authorities: This is a form of menace or penalty that applies primarily to irregular migrant workers. A demand with menaces is unwarranted unless the person making it does so in the belief that he or she has reasonable grounds for making the demand and that the use of menaces is a proper means of reinforcing the demand.[135]

Violations Regarding Wages

The main complaint of migrant construction workers in Abu Dhabi in 2008, as it was for workers in Dubai and Sharjah in 2006, was that they are paid low wages, in many cases after being promised better salaries by labor supply agencies against whom they had no recourse. The UAE government has been required by law to establish a minimum wage, which would help prevent such deceptive practices, since 1980. Nearly three decades later, the government still has not done so.[136]

The semi-skilled and unskilled workers Human Rights Watch interviewed on the island received an average daily salary of around US $8.00 per day, for 10 paid hours per day including overtime, although they often spent 12 hours at the jobsite and up to 2 additional hours traveling to and from the island. An estimate of the average yearly salary, including overtime wages, of foreign workers on Saadiyat Island is $2575.[137] According to a Guggenheim Foundation press release, the average per capita annual income of Abu Dhabi was "approximately US $30,000" as of 2006.

While some Saadiyat Island workers had recently received small pay raises (usually around $5.45 per month), their pay has not kept pace with inflation; according to interviews with numerous workers, rice more than doubled in price in the UAE during 2008.

Failure to Pay Required Overtime

Workers' wages are broken down into a basic salary and overtime pay, with some companies also providing food allowances.  The basic salary covers eight working hours per day. Workers said that one to two hours of unpaid breaks were interspersed among these eight hours. Most laborers interviewed reported working for an additional two hours per day of overtime, for a total of up to 12 hours at the worksite. Workers who live in labor camps that are not on Saadiyat Island reported driving for up to two hours daily to and from the worksite.

The majority of workers we spoke to fell into the bottom tier of the pay schedule at their respective construction companies.[138] These unskilled laborers or semi-skilled masons and carpenters received basic salaries of between 500 to 650 UAE Dirhams per month, or roughly US $136 to $176 for 26 days' work.  Their average basic salary works out to $5.23 to $6.77 per day, or $0.65 to $0.80 per hour.[139]  When overtime and the food allowance several companies provide are included, salaries for unskilled or semi-skilled laborers range from 650 to 1050 dirhams per month ($177 to $286).

According to UAE Labor Law, employers should pay overtime at 1.25 times the basic hourly salary, but many employers of workers we interviewed paid overtime at the same or even at a lower rate than the workers' basic salary.[140] For example, workers for Ed. Zueblin AG reported the company paid them just over 3 dirhams per hour during both their regular and their overtime shifts.[141] Some Al Habtoor workers reported receiving overtime at an adequate rate,[142] but three masons working for Al Habtoor said they received 25 dirhams ($6.79) a day in basic salary, or 3.125 dirhams per hour, and that their overtime rate of pay was only three dirhams per hour.[143] Two Al Jaber workers also reported receiving overtime wages at lower rates than their basic salary.[144]

Companies flout legal requirements to pay overtime at a higher rate, but continue to break down workers' salaries into basic and overtime categories. The reason may be that companies are obliged to provide workers with other payments that are calculated based on the basic salary. These required payments include paid annual leave of one month (at the basic salary rate), and an "end of employment gratuity" that is calculated as a fraction of the basic salary that increases with the total number of years a worker has been employed, and which is paid at the end of his contract.

Unpaid and Late Wages

Prompt and regular payments are especially important to many foreign workers who owe large interest payments on debts incurred to work in the UAE. UAE law requires employers to pay the wages of construction workers at least once per month.[145] Laws also allow workers who are not paid for more than two months to seek work with new employers without having to obtain the former employer's consent. In Human Rights Watch's previous report on labor practices in the UAE, nearly every worker interviewed reported having unpaid and late wages, consistent with frequent press accounts of workers protesting the failure of numerous companies to pay wages for several months. It appeared to be the customary practice of employers to withhold the first two months of workers' wages as a "security deposit" to prevent workers from fleeing. According to the chief UAE Ministry of Labor inspector, "late payment and reduction in wages are the most two consistent violations" of workers' rights today.[146]

Unpaid and late wages continue to be a problem on Saadiyat Island. Several workers there told us that their employers had not paid them for more than two months after starting work. A group of eight workers from Bangladesh, who said they were employed by Leighton to build a bridge, had been working for two and a half months on Saadiyat Island without being paid. Three of the men had paid 230,000, 220,000, and 190,000 taka ($3833 to 3166) to the National Golden Life labor agency in Bangladesh, plane tickets included. The first of the three men said,

I took out a loan at five per cent interest to pay the agency, and also sold my cows and took out a mortgage. The agency said we'd get a basic salary of 600 dirhams [$163], but that it would be up to 1500 dirhams a month with overtime. But we haven't been paid yet and have been working on the island for two and a half months. The company hasn't set up any bank accounts. They say our first payment is going to be in cash. We were supposed to be paid today. We found out we're getting 520 dirhams [$141] basic salary and only 700 dirhams [$190] with overtime.[147]

Two ATCO and Al Habtoor workers, both from Bangladesh, told Human Rights Watch that their employers had assigned them to build temporary worker housing on the island. Each man said a labor supply agent had told him his wage would be 750 dirhams($204), but that the real wage was 520 dirhams ($141). According to the Al Habtoor worker,

I paid 250,000 taka ($4100) to the agency; I sold my land for 60,000 taka ($1000) and borrowed the rest. When we got to UAE, we signed 4 papers but they didn't give any to us. First we waited for 14 days, but there was no work. We went for training for steel fixing for 10 days. We've been on the island for two months since then, and we still haven't been paid.[148]

A mason working for Al Habtoor said his employer had transferred him to the island without paying him for the job he did on his previous worksite. "They pay you according to the seniority level on the last job, so I'm still waiting."[149]

As of June 2007, UAE law requires employers to set up bank accounts for workers and transfer workers' salaries directly into these accounts. According to news reports citing the Assistant Undersecretary of the Ministry of Labour, Obaid Rashid Al Zahmi, more than 90 per cent of the 250,000 companies in the UAE had not opened employee bank accounts by January 2008.[150] 

Human Rights Watch witnessed a cash pay-day at the construction workers' accommodations on Saadiyat Island on July 24. In interviews in late September and again in November, other Leighton and Al Habtoor workers said they were paid in cash. Several Al Habtoor workers on Saadiyat said that their monthly cash payday could vary by one week or more.

In response to questions from Human Rights Watch, Ed. Zueblin AG stated that all its workers are paid via electronic transfers into bank accounts on the 18th of the following month.[151] The Al Habtoor Leighton Group said that it "is currently trialling a new electronic payment system at one of our camp sites," that it would expand the system "if proven successful," and that "we believe we will be one of the first contractors to do this."[152]

Illegal deductions

Many workers complained that in addition to paying low wages, their employers deducted various amounts from their salaries. Our 2006 report found that some companies illegally charged workers for visa renewal fees or health insurance. Among workers interviewed on Saadiyat Island, three Bangladeshi Al Habtoor employees said that upon arrival in the UAE seven months ago, they spent one month in a labor camp in Moussafa without any work to do and without receiving any salary. The company gave them an allowance of 200 dirhams to pay for food during that month, but deducted the same amount from their salary after they finally began working.[153] Their basic salaries were 598 dirhams ($163) per month, or up to 1000 dirhams ($272) with overtime if they worked on Fridays. Security guards with Group4Securicor also said that the company provided them with a 200 dirham ($54) food allowance when they first arrived in the UAE and were training and studying for six days for a test at the Private Security Business Section, required to work in Abu Dhabi. The company later deducted this food allowance from their salaries, which amounts to 800 dirhams ($217) without overtime, or 1000 dirhams ($272) with overtime.[154]

UAE law does not require employers to provide their workers with food allowances. However, under UAE law, the employer is not permitted to deduct expenses from employees' wages in amounts greater than 10 per cent of the wage.[155] In the cases of these workers, the deduction amounted to more than 20 per cent of their monthly wage.

In response to questions from Human Rights Watch, Ed. Zueblin AG stated that all its workers are provided with food free of charge or receive a food allowance.[156] Al Habtoor Leighton Group did not respond to the question. As noted, no other contractors responded to our questions.

Lack of Rest Days and Annual Leave

Many workers on Saadiyat said they worked long hours, spending up to 14 hours per day in transit to and from the worksite and on the site. An Al Habtoor worker, whom we interviewed in July when the UAE mandates that workers receive a break from 12:30 to 3 pm to avoid extreme heat, told Human Rights Watch, "We leave camp at either 5:15 or 6 am, depending on the buses; we start duty at 7 a.m., and end at 7 p.m. We get eight hours' duty plus three hours overtime, plus another hour's break, or 12 hours total. Then we have to take a bus back to camp."[157] An Indian man working as a mason on Saadiyat Island said that due to a lack of kitchen facilities in his labor camp, "we have to get up at 3:30 or 4 a.m. to cook our food for the day. We have to take a number to cook. If we don't get a good number, we have to wait for sometimes one or two hours. It's the same after we get back from work."[158]

UAE law requires employees to be given unpaid breaks at least every five hours and limits the "maximum normal" working day to eight hours plus two hours overtime, but does not specify how long employees may be required to remain on the work site or in transit.[159] UAE law designates Friday as the weekly rest day for all but daily-paid workers.[160] Some migrant construction workers (who are daily-paid), and virtually all the security guards Human Rights Watch spoke to, complained that they had worked for long periods with no rest days, perhaps implying that some companies interpret UAE law to mean that daily-paid migrant workers are not entitled to any days off.

Some workers said they had worked for weeks or months on end without being given rest days. A Zueblin worker on Saadiyat reported that he had worked 30 days consecutively without a rest day.[161] An Al Habtoor steel fixer on Saadiyat said he had worked for five months without receiving any holidays during that time.[162] All Group4Securicor guards interviewed, including those who worked on Saadiyat Island and elsewhere in Abu Dhabi, said they worked 12 hour daily shifts, seven days a week. A Nepalese guard on Saadiyat Island said he had worked for 21 months in these conditions.[163] Another "G4S" guard from Pakistan said the company did provide one month of paid annual leave per year, as required by law, but that this was the only vacation time he had received.[164] UAE law requires employers to provide ten vacation days annually, but apart from requiring companies to pay their employees overtime, does not strictly limit how many consecutive days an employer can require his "daily-paid" employees to work.[165]

UAE law requires companies to grant paid leave amounting to two days per month worked to workers who have worked more than six months during their first year, and one month annually thereafter.[166] However, many workers reported that their companies would not provide them with legally-required "annual leave" vacations during their first year of work, but that they only became eligible to take this leave after their second year of service. A Punjabi carpenter who had worked on Saadiyat for 15 months told Human Rights Watch that his employer, Zueblin, gave this response when it denied his request to return his passport.[167] Al Habtoor workers also said their employer told them that they were only eligible for their leave after completing two years' work.[168] According to one Al Habtoor worker, "we first get our annual leave after two years. You get two months off and are paid 650 dirhams for each month, but you have to buy your own plane ticket home. The leave is the only time you get your passport."[169]

In response to questions from Human Rights Watch, Ed. Zueblin AG stated that its workers generally work six days per week and may take days off for any full days worked on public holidays during the following week.[170] Al Habtoor Leighton Group did not directly respond to the question; as noted, no other contractors responded to our questions.

Inadequate Healthcare

In 2006 the prime minister of the UAE decreed that employers should be required to provide health insurance for low-skilled workers. As of September 2008, Abu Dhabi mandated such health insurance; Dubai announced plans to phase in mandatory health insurance by 2015.[171] Nonetheless, several workers on Saadiyat Island said they had suffered serious accidents, and virtually all complained of perfunctory medical care for all but the most serious injuries or illnesses.[172] Workers said medical care for heatstroke, fever, and workplace injuries (for instance, a welder whose leg was injured by a grinding machine) consisted of male nurses handing out "Panadol," a generic painkiller. The "camp boss" at an Al Habtoor labor camp in Moussafa told Human Rights Watch that the company provided three male nurses for 640 workers.[173] The head of the emergency department at Abu Dhabi's largest public hospital, Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, told Human Rights Watch, "The adequacy of medical care on worksites is not well developed, and I have had previously inadequately treated people showing up at the hospital."[174]

Many workers complained that they had to pay for medicine or healthcare themselves and have not been reimbursed by their companies. An al Habtoor employee said that when he had a medical problem, "I went two or three times to the male nurse, but each time he said 'today we're not available'." The worker eventually bought medicine for himself, and had not formally requested his company to reimburse him, apparently because he felt the effort would be fruitless.[175] Another Al Habtoor employee working on Saadiyat as a tower crane operator's assistant said that on one occasion, "a block fell from the crane and landed on my leg, and I had to take two days off but I didn't get paid."[176]

Several workers said that in cases of serious injury, the company will provide transportation to a hospital and will pay the hospital bill up front, but would then deduct that amount from the worker's salary. An Arabtec worker said, "The company will pay your medical bills up front, but you have to pay them back."[177]

Workers with medical problems may be undertreated because of the difficulty of obtaining medical treatment beyond what the medical staff directly employed by the workers' own employers provide. Workers said companies required a doctor's certificate in cases of health-related absences from work; several workers said that without a certificate, the company docked them two days' pay for one day's absence. However, workers said doctors were reluctant to sign certificates, or that the out-of-pocket cost of going to a doctor was likely to exceed the salary they would lose. One worker said that he could ask a doctor for a letter stating that he was too sick to work, but that obtaining the letter would require him to leave work for the day. "That means risking a day's pay on whether the doctor is willing to sign my leave sheet or not," the worker said.[178]

A worker for Zueblin reported,

Two months ago I had to buy my own medication. I had a stomach problem. It cost me 70 or 80 dirhams for the medicine. I was off work for two days but my supervisor was friendly; he pretended on the paper that I'd been working; otherwise the company would've deducted my pay, because the doctor refused to give me sick leave. The doctor said companies told him not to be easy on allowing sick leave. Zueblin deducts two days' pay per one unexcused day. We know that doctors won't help us, and we can't afford the pay deduction. Instead we get "doctors" on-site but they just give us Panadol [a generic painkiller].[179]

A second Zueblin worker added,

I was sick and called the foreman; he told me I could take the day off but that I needed a doctor's certificate. But I didn't go to the doctor because I'd have to pay 100 dirhams for the visit and the medicine, and two days' salary is only 50 or 60 dirhams, which is what they'd deduct if they wanted. This happened earlier this month, so I don't know if they've deducted it yet. If I tell the supervisor I need to go to hospital, he'll give me part time off, but he'll only pay me for time I already worked, and there's the danger that I'll get fined two days' if the doctor won't give me a certificate. After being treated liked this, I'm only going to work until the day I pay off my loans.[180]

In response to Human Rights Watch's questions, Zueblin stated that all its employees had health insurance cards that entitled them to free health care at a local hospital, but added that "any relevant additional medical expenses are reimbursed to the worker upon presentation of the receipt."[181] It is not clear what kinds of "additional" expenses are not covered by the health insurance card, or what criteria are used to determine if they are "relevant," or whether the health insurance card is accepted only at one hospital. The Al Habtoor Leighton Group said in a letter that it "pays for all medical care for its workers," has male nurses in each of its "construction villages" and "a qualified doctor dedicated to the construction villages" (the letter did not specify how many workers live in the construction villages this doctor services); and that the company ensures all workers requiring hospital treatment receive it promptly.[182]

Abu Dhabi law requires employers and business owners to provide health insurance coverage for employees, including all non-UAE nationals and their families.[183] Employees of companies that have their own medical institutions licensed by the Abu Dhabi General Authority for Health Services to offer medical services may be exempted from the law's requirements upon a decision by the same authority.[184] As noted, Ed. Zueblin AG and Al Habtoor Leighton Group both stated to Human Rights Watch that they had arrangements with local hospitals.

In an interview, TDIC officials insisted that all workers in Abu Dhabi, including TDIC employees as well as construction workers on Saadiyat Island, were issued national DAMAN health cards that covered all work-related accidents and required small co-payments for medicine and doctor's visits.[185] However, Human Rights Watch interviewed numerous workers who lacked DAMAN health cards, either because they had health cards issued by private companies or because they lacked any health insurance cards at all.

Lack of Health and Safety Information and Enforcement

Human Rights Watch was unable to determine how many workers, if any, have died from work-related accidents on Saadiyat Island. No public figures are available. In response to a written question from Human Rights Watch asking whether it collected or would make public figures on how many workers had died on the island, TDIC stated that it required its contractors to "prepare and submit monthly progress reports which includes safety statistics and details of hazardous incidents and activities," but it did not provide us with any figures or state whether it would make such figures available. No workers interviewed on Saadiyat Island reported seeing workplace deaths, although some reported serious accidents; one had witnessed a man fall off a bridge being built to link the island to Abu Dhabi city.[186]

The head of the Emergency Department at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City in Abu Dhabi said that from 350 to 400 foreign construction workers presented daily to the hospital or its community-based clinic in Khalifa City (also in Abu Dhabi emirate).[187] (Most construction workers with serious injuries in Abu Dhabi city would likely report to that hospital, he added, because it was the only hospital serviced by public ambulances and capable of doing all types of surgery.) Work-related injuries included "pieces of cement and steel chips in their eyes," "hand injuries from grinders or power tools," and falls. "Most of what we see is avoidable," he said. "Workers need more eye care, and more education." Numbers of heat-related cases presenting at the hospital had declined since 2005, when the UAE imposed a ban on work from 12:30 to 3:00 pm during the months of July and August.[188] Human Rights Watch interviewed the hospital official in the presence of an official from the Abu Dhabi ministry of health.

The Bangladesh Embassy in Abu Dhabi estimated that it repatriated the bodies of eight to ten construction workers per month; on average, three were work-related deaths; one was a suicide; one a murder; and the rest were car accidents.[189] Officials at the Embassy of Pakistan offered to provide statistics on worker deaths during a meeting with Human Rights Watch but did not respond to further inquiries. The Embassy of India refused to meet with Human Rights Watch, despite repeated requests.[190]

Volunteers with an NGO that advocates for the rights of construction workers said the NGO received 10 to 15 notifications of "serious" injuries among foreign construction workers per day. Additionally, the NGO confirmed an average of three suicides per week among foreign construction workers in the UAE, because the workers could not pay their debts.[191] The volunteer said that the families of workers who die on the job faced a series of difficulties, including receiving the compensation due to them by law:

Your family gets more compensation money if you die in a road accident than if you die on the job. Usually compensation for workplace death ranges from 18,000 dirhams to a maximum of 35,000, whatever is equivalent to two years' salary. But the problem is that if someone dies, their body is repatriated, and there's no one left here to follow up and get them the compensation. The lawyers here can charge up to 40 or 50 per cent of the settlement once they get the power of attorney from the deceased's family, whom they track down back in India. We need a social security fund here, like there is in Bahrain.[192]

Police officers are stationed at the emergency department of Sheikh Khalifa hospital, and are tasked with reporting certain injuries to their supervisor.[193] However, to Human Rights Watch's knowledge, no information is publicly available from the Abu Dhabi government or UAE federal agencies about the number of workplace accidents, their severity, whether investigations occurred, or the outcome of those investigations in terms of penalties or remedial measures.

In November 2008, the chairman of a consortium of construction companies called Build Safe Dubai (since renamed "Build Safe UAE"), criticized the Dubai Municipality and the UAE government for their failure to publish information about workplace accidents. [194]

Construction Week magazine quoted the chairman as saying,

At the moment nobody is sure of the figures in Dubai or the UAE market ... I'm sure somebody must know, because there is a requirement to inform the [Dubai Municipality] of any major incidents and definitely any fatalities. Without the statistics how do we know the scale of the problem and if the UAE construction market is getting safer?

In 2006, Human Rights Watch found that national UAE figures of workplace deaths among migrant construction workers appeared to indicate a severe under-reporting problem. Construction Week reported that over 880 construction workers from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh had died in the UAE that year, with up to 30 percent of the deaths caused by worksite accidents. That year, 292 Indian construction workers died in Dubai and the northern emirates and 168 in Abu Dhabi, according to Construction Week's research. In contrast, the only municipality to report any official figures at all, Dubai, recorded only 34 deaths of construction workers of all nationalities at their workplaces in 2004 and 39 deaths in 2005.

Under UAE law, Ministry of Labor inspectors are to ensure that employers comply with safety and health regulations.[195] However, the Ministry employs only 425 inspectors to oversee, according to its 2007 figures, over 260,000 businesses employing a total of 3,113,000 foreign workers.[196] A Pakistani man, now working for Zueblin on Saadiyat Island, said, "I've been in the UAE for six years and have never seen a government inspection of anything." Four other Zueblin workers, from Rajasthan, India, said they had been working in the UAE for seven years and had never seen a government inspector at work site or camp.[197]

The owner of a construction company in Dubai told Human Rights Watch that in his experience, although the Dubai Municipality appeared to be inspecting labor accommodations regularly, there was inadequate enforcement of legal standards for health and safety.

We're still building our labor accommodations so in the interim we've rented places [for our workers] at someone else's camp. We had looked at the camp; it looked OK. But after renting for a couple months, our [workers] were complaining that the camp was in bad shape, and we realized they weren't staying where the landlord told us they were staying. So we contacted the Dubai Municipality to ask about the site, and we got a letter from them saying, "these are the violations." So we saw the inspections had been fairly regular and had noted violations. We saw that the landlords had been fined, but the problem is that despite the fines, there was nothing to make them improve conditions. The inspection reports I got were a month apart, so there was frequency; and the first time [the landlord] got fined 13,000 dirhams, but when the same violations persisted, they didn't fine them the second time.  It seems people will do just barely enough to keep from getting fined without actually solving any problems.[198]

The federal government's failure to hire an adequate number of labor inspectors, to publicly report occupational accidents and injuries, and to enforce relevant laws continue despite promises of reform dating back several years. In November 2005, the labor undersecretary at the Ministry of Labor admitted to the media that the government had no comprehensive data about numbers, causes of death or injury, or about the identity of those dead or injured.[199] In 2006, noting that only six of 6,000 companies in Dubai reported accidents to the authorities, Human Rights Watch concluded, "The government is clearly not enforcing the [law]" requiring companies to notify the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and the police of cases of death and injury of employees at work sites. On September 8, 2006, the government announced plans to increase the number of inspectors to 1,000 within the next 18 months. On November 7, 2006, the prime minister issued a decree ordering that 2,000 more government labor inspectors be hired.[200]The labour minister stated on March 24, 2007 that within a "few months, the number of [labor] inspectors should reach over 2,000 ... an indication of the seriousness with which the Government is tackling this task."[201]

However, the government has failed woefully to even come close to meeting its own target. The US State Department report on human rights practices in the UAE stated that at the end of 2008, the number of health and safety inspectors employed by the Ministry of Labor stood at only 48.[202]

Threats against Freedom of Association of Unions, and the Right to Strike

In 2006, Human Rights Watch noted that the absence of labor unions and of independent workers' rights NGOs "has produced a situation where the government and the business sector are the sole entities deciding on labor-related issues." This remains the case today. Workers were afraid to unionize or strike due to threats they would be fired and deported – threats backed up by laws that do not protect the right to organize and that forbid strikes, in violation of international labor laws.

None of the workers interviewed were members of trade unions.[203] Most workers said they would be fired and deported if they unionized. Some workers said company officers explicitly threatened them if they were to join or form unions. An Al Habtoor employee, who said he had been assigned to work on a Leighton project on Saadiyat (the companies announced a joint venture in 2007), said that when he first arrived in the UAE, "The foreman told us all when we first got here not to try to form any groups because they'd cancel our visas."[204]

Workers also said that company officials threatened them with deportation if they went on strike. A construction worker from Pakistan, who had been working on Saadiyat Island for five months without a holiday for Al Habtoor, said that "people from the company told us that if we went on strike our visas would be terminated."[205] In many cases workers had not been directly threatened but knew the consequences of striking from the numerous strikes and deportations that occurred in the UAE over the past year.

During the past two years, tens of thousands of migrant workers in the UAE have gone on strike to protest low wages or poor treatment; authorities reportedly deported thousands and banned them from returning.[206] In February 2007, a Dubai court sentenced 45 Indian construction workers to six-month jail terms, followed by deportation orders, for violence during a strike. In October, according to news reports, "thousands of construction workers in Dubai's Jebel Ali free-trade zone smashed police cars and blocked traffic. Within weeks, about 40,000 migrants in Dubai had staged strikes to demand pay raises, including for work building Burj Dubai, the world's tallest skyscraper." Workers for Arabtec, a construction company that later won a contract on Saadiyat, were involved in the Burj Dubai strike. On March 18, 2008, roughly 1,500 Egyptian migrant workers at an electromechanical plant in the Salaa area of Sharjah went on strike, destroying a company administration building and setting fire to cars, protesting low wages that failed to keep pace with rapidly increasing food prices. A week later, another violent strike broke out on Al Nahda road, where labourers attacked the police.[207]

UAE law does not protect the right to form or organize a union, or collective bargaining.[208] The federal labor law is silent on the issue of strikes, but allows employers to dismiss workers without notice who are absent from work "without a valid reason" for seven consecutive or 20 non-consecutive days in one year.[209] A Ministry of Labor resolution on labor disputes, issued in 2003, implicitly and expressly forbids strikes and lock-outs in the following articles:

Article Two: The masters and the workers have to solve their collective disputes through direct negotiation, medium, reconciliation and then arbitration according to the procedures mentioned in this resolution.
Article Three: The master or the workers has / have to inform the authorized labour department of a labour dispute on paper in the same day. If it is difficult to do this, then the aforementioned department must be directly informed in the next labour day. Stopping the work or shutting the foundation is not allowed in the violation of the rules of this article.[210]

According to the International Trade Union Confederation, the legislative committee of the UAE Ministry of Justice approved a bill allowing the formation of trade unions in the private sector in October 2004.[211]In May 2006, the minister of labor indicated that the government would enact a law permitting trade union activities by the end of the year.[212] As reported in Building Towers, Cheating Workers, Human Rights Watch asked for but did not receive details of the proposed legislation. There has been no further news on the proposal.

International law guarantees workers' rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining, including the right to organize unions and the right to strike. The UAE, as a member state of the International Labour Organization (ILO), is obligated to promote and protect these rights. The ILO has declared that these "fundamental" principles are binding even on members, like the UAE, that have not ratified the ILO conventions governing those rights (see section on Obligations of companies and UAE authorities, below).

Fear of Expressing Grievances

All workers whom we interviewed said they feared that they would be fired and deported if they used official channels to complain about abuses. None of the 94 foreign workers employed on Saadiyat Island whom Human Rights Watch interviewed had submitted or was considering filing a complaint to the Ministry of Labor, the courts, their own embassies, or any other body.

One worker, who said that a labor supply agency in Pakistan had tricked him to come to the UAE with false promises of high wages, told Human Rights Watch that he chose not to ask the Pakistani embassy for help because "I'm afraid the next day my name would appear in the company records and I'd be terminated."[213] A mason from India who worked for Al Habtoor on Saadiyat Island said he had still not been paid for his work on a previous job, but that "If we complain the camp boss will tell the head office we're lying and making problems. One year ago when I came back from my leave, one guy got fired for complaining. Now we're afraid."[214]Only one group of workers interviewed knew of anyone who had pursued a complaint.[215]

To pursue their cases, workers must submit written complaints in Arabic on official forms; workers, who are often illiterate in any language, must first approach a "typing company" before submitting their complaint. In cases where the complaint relates to breach of contract, the worker may submit it to the complaints office of the Ministry of Labor in the emirate that originally issued his work permit.[216] There is one such complaints office in Abu Dhabi, in Moussafa, roughly an hour's drive from Saadiyat Island, and one more in Dubai, roughly 150 kilometers north east of Saadiyat Island.

In response to questions from Human Rights Watch, Ed. Zueblin AG stated that its workers had formed committees to bring forward complaints to the site management.[217] The Al Habtoor Leighton Group stated that "all grievances are addressed, investigated reported upon [sic] and resolved and workers grievances are heard without fear of retribution," and that it provided its workers with transportation to access public services including courts.[218] The research conducted for this report indicates that any measures companies may be taking to provide workers with access to meaningful and effective grievance mechanisms, while welcome steps, are clearly inadequate.

Entities Involved in the Construction of Saadiyat Island

TDIC, the Louvre, the Guggenheim, New York University, Ed. Zueblin AG, Al Habtoor Leighton, Arabtec, Al Jaber, Saif Bin Darwish, ADNH, and the Architectural Firms Involved in the Maritime and Sheikh Zayid Museums and the Performing Arts Center

Human Rights Watch met with officials of TDIC in Abu Dhabi in November 2008 to discuss concerns arising from our research, and subsequently wrote to TDIC requesting information on how it was addressing those concerns. We raised concerns pertaining to workers on Saadiyat Island including: employers' confiscation of workers' passports; employers' failure to translate contracts into languages workers could understand; labor supply agencies' deception regarding conditions of employment; high fees workers paid to such agencies; employers' late and irregular payments of salaries, and illegal deductions from salaries; lack of adequate rest days and holidays, overtime pay, and rest hours; workers' fear of expressing grievances; workers' complaints that their employers required them to pay for or deducted health care costs; denial of the right to freedom of association; and requests for information about any Ministry of Labor inspections of worksites or accommodations , and any workplace accidents that may have occurred on the Island.

In addition to identifying the pervasive abuses of workers ongoing in Saadiyat Island, we urged TDIC, the cultural institutions, and their architects to include provisions in their contractual agreements for the development and design of these institutions that would ensure the protection of workers employed on their projects.[219] The need for explicit contractual provisions stemmed in large part from the failure of the UAE and Abu Dhabi institutions to enforce existing UAE labor laws, as well as the silence of UAE labor laws on a number of internationally recognized labor rights.

TDIC did not directly answer many of these questions, but noted that, as "the Master Developer of Saadiyat Island ... we engage a number of contractors commissioned to develop the island. Workers employed to work on the island are contractor employees and not employed directly by TDIC. Also, according to the above, we would like to bring to your attention that we can only answer the questions related to TDIC's business. As such we think you need to address some of your questions with the relevant government offices."[220]

TDIC provided Human Rights Watch with some of the standard provisions in its contracts with construction companies operating on Saadiyat Island,[221] and said they had written to their contractors requiring them to state their adherence to these provisions. TDIC said it had also appointed an Employment Practices Compliance Auditor to monitor and ensure contractors' "compliance to our contracts and the law with respect to employment related matters." TDIC would impose penalties up to contract termination if contractors failed to remedy identified breaches after being notified.

TDIC's statement that it has appointed an auditor to ensure contractors' compliance with these provisions is a welcome step, as is the requirement that contractors provide monthly progress reports including safety statistics and details of hazardous incidents. Also noteworthy is the letter TDIC says it sent to all its contractors requiring them to confirm that they do not "engage in or support the use of forced labor", do not require their employees to surrender their passports on commencing employment, and do not withhold wages from employees.[222] TDIC also requested that Human Rights Watch share information as to specific violations and abuses from its own investigations on Saadiyat Island.

However, apart from vague, boilerplate requirements that contractors abide by "applicable laws," TDIC's provisions do not specifically address abuses pertaining to the hiring, contracting and payment of workers, namely the payment of illegal recruiting fees. As well, while welcoming TDIC's letter to its contractors requiring them to affirm their non-use of forced labor, non-confiscation of passports, and non-withholding of wages, our research on Saadiyat Island and elsewhere in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, in both 2008 and previously in 2006, strongly suggests that these problems are virtually endemic to the labor sector in the UAE. Much more than letters should be required before TDIC is satisfied that its contractors are not confiscating passports or withholding wages, and the issue of forced labor requires explanation that the problem includes employers' threats of deducting wages or end-of-employment gratuity payments or imposing any other penalties on employees who wish to quit their jobs at any time. TDIC should, in addition, ensure that workers are fully informed of their rights, and have access to governmental grievance mechanisms without fear of reprisal. The provisions as TDIC included in its contracts with construction companies appeared not to have succeeded in protecting workers' rights. It is not known whether TDIC is currently monitoring compliance with these provisions or whether monitoring has improved working conditions.

TDIC also pointed to its "CSR [corporate social responsibility] Report 2009," which describes accommodations standards that exceed UAE requirements.[223] Human Rights Watch inspected some of the new labor accommodations on the Island, and in another area in Abu Dhabi, during the summer and fall of 2008; rooms did not appear overcrowded. During brief inspections, Human Rights Watch observed small, air conditioned rooms housing four workers each in bunk beds, with lockers for their belongings. Rooms and bathrooms appeared clean, although in one dormitory building on Saadiyat Island only one sink was working in bathroom facilities that workers said were used by some 80 men.

With respect to the international institutions involved, the French agency responsible for the Louvre Abu Dhabi was most responsive to the concerns raised by Human Rights Watch.[224] In meetings in May 2008, Agence France-Muséums provided Human Rights Watch with a copy of a provision in its contracts with TDIC. TDIC has the authority to engage the contractors that will build the Louvre Abu Dhabi, but according to the contract, it shall only engage contractors who implement a quality assurance program that meets or is equivalent to the Social Accountability 8000 standard, which is "an auditable standard for a third-party verification system, setting out the voluntary requirements to be met by employers in the workplace, including workers' rights, workplace conditions, and management systems. The normative elements of this standard are based on national law, international human rights norms and the conventions of the ILO."[225] However, while allowing the Agency to require TDIC to confirm that all contractors working on the project site conformed to these standards, the contract did not contain any guarantees or provisions enabling the Agency to enforce the SA8000 standard.

In December 2008, Human Rights Watch met again with officials from the Agence France-Muséums in Paris to present our research findings about conditions in Abu Dhabi. The officials said they had stressed the importance of monitoring workers' rights on Saadiyat Island to TDIC and had succeeded in obtaining TDIC's agreement to allow them to audit independently conditions at the Louvre Abu Dhabi worksite.

Human Rights Watch also met with French officials, including the Advisor for culture, education, youth and sport at the Presidency of the Republic. The official said he was only slightly involved with the Louvre project but that he would "do my best" to ensure workers' rights were not abused during its construction. Subsequently in response to a detailed letter explaining our concerns, the official wrote that the issue was not his concern. Human Rights Watch met with other French government officials at the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of foreign Affairs, following up with recommendations that the Agence France-Muséums should pledge that its Louvre project will not employ workers subject to abusive but "customary" labor practices in the UAE, among other steps.

In February 2007, after media reports that the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation planned to build a museum on Saadiyat Island, Human Rights Watch wrote to the Foundation and to the architectural firm designing the museum, Gehry Partners LLC, to urge the Guggenheim to take steps to counter the likelihood workers on Saadiyat would suffer from widespread abusive labor practices.[226] In April 2008, at a meeting with Human Rights Watch, the general counsel for the Guggenheim Foundation said local authorities in Abu Dhabi had taken promising steps to improve foreign workers' circumstances, and noted that Human Rights Watch's 2006 report covered only the northern Emirates, implying there was insufficient research to substantiate concerns about abuses in Abu Dhabi.[227] Guggenheim officials also argued that Abu Dhabi was an exceptional emirate more amenable to change than others. As noted in the "Summary," Human Rights Watch met in February 2009 with consultants to the Guggenheim's Abu Dhabi project, and learned that despite the Guggenheim's early concerns at the possibility that migrant construction workers on its UAE project could be abused, there exist no monitoring or specific labor rights provisions in its contracts with TDIC. As of April 7, 2009, after more than two years, we have not been able to meet with any officials who took responsibility for the Guggenheim's project on Saadiyat Island.

Human Rights Watch also wrote to the President of New York University on September 11, 2007, outlining our concerns that, based on our research and reporting, workers employed in the construction of the university's planned Saadiyat Island campus were likely to suffer abuses. NYU did not reply. Human Rights Watch contacted the inaugural president of NYU Abu Dhabi with our concerns on October 2, 2008; again, we received no reply. After other attempts, NYU responded to a letter sent on February 11, 2009, with an offer to meet. Finally, on April 10, we met the dean of NYU Abu Dhabi, the new campus' US public relations director, and NYU's associate general counsel. Our discussion is described in the "Summary," above.[228]

Human Rights Watch has also been involved in efforts to modify NYU's Fair Labor Code of Conduct, to ensure that its provisions will apply to any non-US campuses of the university, such as the planned campus in Abu Dhabi. As of this writing the NYU Senate, composed of faculty and students, was reviewing the revised draft code to vote on its passage and recommendation to the administration.

The British Museum did not respond to our letter expressing in detail our concerns about the exploitation of construction workers in the UAE, which we sent in response to reports that the museum would establish a presence in Abu Dhabi.

Human Rights Watch contacted each of the architectural firms – Ateliers Jean Nouvel, Gehry Partners LLC, Zaha Hadid Architects, Tadao Ando Architects, Foster and Partners, and Rafael Vinoly Architects PC – selected to design high-profile buildings on Saadiyat Island with our concerns.[229] As noted, only Gehry partners and Ateliers Jean Nouvel responded.


Construction of museum and university buildings on Saadiyat Island had not begun when this report was completed, but construction companies including Arabtec, Al Habtoor Leighton, Al Jaber, Saif Bin Darwish and Zueblin had already completed massive preliminary and infrastructure work on the island. Like all companies working on Saadiyat, these had won contracts with TDIC. Prior to conducting our research trips in the summer and fall of 2008, Human Rights Watch wrote to each company asking to meet and expressed our concerns about migrant workers' rights; none met with us. During our research we also interviewed workers for Abu Dhabi National Hotels / Compass, who were servicing the main new labor camp being built on Saadiyat Island. In early 2009 we wrote again notifying the companies of our preliminary research findings and asking for further information. As of April 7, only Zueblin and Al Habtoor Leighton Group had responded; their responses are incorporated in the relevant sections of the report.

UAE Authorities

Human Rights Watch requested information from the Ministry of Labor on the UAE's progress on labor-sector reform efforts – including the status of the revised draft labor law, plans to increase the number of labor inspectors, MoUs with labor-sending countries, possible legislative proposals that would allow unionization, and other areas.[230] Human Rights Watch sought information about the Ministry's actions to combat the withholding of workers' passports, illegal fees charged to workers and deception regarding conditions of employment by labor supply agencies, illegal deductions from and late payments of salaries, lack of overtime pay, lack of adequate holidays and break hours, health and safety inspections, and coercive contractual circumstances. We also asked the Naturalization and Residency Department of the Ministry of Interior for information regarding the number of migrant workers in Abu Dhabi, and details about the criteria for approving, denying or cancelling work visas, the procedure for deporting workers, efforts to curb illegal visa selling, and inspections of accommodations used to illegally house workers.[231] Neither the Ministry of Labor nor the Ministry of Interior had replied by the time this report went to press.

[47]Labor ministry regulations encourage companies to diversify their workforces by varying the fees companies must pay per work visa; for example, a company with a workforce that is 90 per cent Indian will pay higher fees than a company with 40 per cent Indian, 30 per cent Pakistani, and 30 per cent Bangladeshi wage laborers. CITE

[48]Non-Resident Keralites' Affairs Department, "Special Announcement: Embassy of India, Abu Dhabi, Subject: Update on Changes in UAE Labour Law & other related developments," no date, available at (accessed December 3, 2008).

[49]The agency's relationship with the workers will cease once they join the final employer. Article 5, Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, Ministerial Resolution No. 233 (1998), On Rules of Licensing Employment and Expatriate Manpower Supply Agencies, May 2, 1998.

[50]The immigration department also issues instructions requiring the company to provide for an initial medical check-up for the worker to ensure he not suffering from a list of so-called "deportable diseases," such as tuberculosis or HIV / AIDS, and to provide him with health insurance for the duration of his residency in the UAE. Human Rights Watch interview with labor attaché, Philippines Embassy, Abu Dhabi, November 19, 2008. Where companies have contracted with labor supply agencies that are based in the UAE, it remains the agency's responsibility to have the medical examination administered and to repatriate workers who fail their medical examination or are otherwise found unfit to work. Article 4(b)(7)-(8), Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, Ministerial Resolution No. 233 (1998), On Rules of Licensing Employment and Expatriate Manpower Supply Agencies, May 2, 1998.

[51] Hamdan al Harmi, "Ask the Law," August 21, 2005, Khaleej Times, (accessed December 6, 2008).

[52]Al Tamimi and Company, Labor Law in the UAE (no date), p. 19; and Human Rights Watch interview with labor attaché (name withheld), Philippines Embassy, Abu Dhabi, November 19, 2008.

[53]Article 131, Federal Law No. 8 (1980) on Regulation of Labor Relations.

[54]Human Rights Watch interview with labor attaché (name withheld), Philippines Embassy, Abu Dhabi, November 19, 2008.

[55]Human Rights Watch interview with Mouna Raisi, Ministry of Labor complaints department, Moussafa, Abu Dhabi, November 25, 2008.

[56] Al Tamimi and Company, Labor Law in the UAE (no date), p. 19.

[57]Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, Ministerial Resolution No. 500 (2005), Article 1 (C)(i).

[58]Article 121 (a), Federal Law No. 8 (1980) on Regulation of Labor Relations.

[59]Council of Ministers' Resolution No. 30 (2001), Regarding Transfer of Sponsorship, Categories Allowed to Transfer Sponsorship, and Pertinent Conditions.

[60]Workers must have spent at least three years working for their sponsor (according to the date their labor card was issued) before becoming eligible to request the sponsor's consent to transfer sponsorship, which they may do only once "during their tenure in the country." Articles 2 (4)(c), Ministerial Decision No. 826 (2005), Regarding the Executive Regulations for Labor Sponsorship Transfer. There are no criteria prohibiting the sponsor from arbitrarily or unreasonably withholding consent, requiring the worker to pay a fee for this consent, or excepting workers whose sponsors cannot be found from the consent requirement. Workers who obtain such consent must pay a fee of between 5000 and 6000 dirhams ($1362 to $1622), the equivalent of roughly seven to 10 months' wages for a construction worker. Article 3. For an additional fee of 3000 dirhams, workers can transfer one year's service. Article 4. The original sponsor's consent is not required only if the new sponsor pays all the required fees and shows that the previous sponsor had not paid the worker for three consecutive months. Article 6. This has now been reduced to two months pursuant to a 2006 prime ministerial decree ordered the minister of labour to pass reforms allowing workers "who have been cheated on wages or simply not paid for more than two months" to be released from their employer sponsorships. See UAE Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, The Protection of the Rights of Workers in the United Arab Emirates: Annual Report 2007, p. 13.

[61]"Not paid salary for 2 months in UAE? May apply for new job," Economic Times, September 18, 2008,

[62]"It appears that sponsorship may not be transferred unless the employee falls into one of the applicable categories for transfer and meets certain requirements laid down by the Ministries. It is difficult to say with any certainty what these categories and requirements are as they are continually being revised and their interpretation and application is subject to the discretion of the Ministries." Clarendon Parker Ltd., "UAE Labor Laws," (accessed October 1, 2008).

[63]See, e.g.: Salam Hafez, "400 labour camps risk closure for violations," The National, August 29, 2008,, accessed March 23, 2009; Anjana Sankar, "Chickenpox spread like wildfire at labor accommodations," Gulf News, June 6, 2008,, accessed March 16, 2008; Anthony Richardson, Praveen Menon and Greg Aris, "Early morning fire kills 11 men in Dubai," The National, August 26, 2008,, accessed March 18, 2009. According to news reports, the problem of overcrowding continued at the time of writing this report. Praveen Menon, "Workers still overcrowd Dubai villas," The National, March 16, 2009,, accessed March 18, 2009.

[64] Salam Hafez, "Ministry of Labour targets violations," The National,, March 2, 2009, accessed March 18, 2009. In Sharjah, a northern emirate, some companies stopped providing workers with food, and inspectors found numerous examples of overcrowding, including 80 workers living in one residence. Yasin Kakande, "Firms 'depriving workers of food,"' The National, March 6, 2009,, accessed March 18, 2009.

[65] Human Rights Watch interview with senior advisor to the Ministry of Labor, Manila, Philippines, October 28, 2008.

[66]Article 17, Federal Law No. 8 (1980) On Regulation of Labor Relations. See also Ministerial order No. 57, Article 2 ("In order to be granted permission for mediation in the recruitment and supply of labor from abroad, the following pre-conditions must be met: 1. The applicant must be a U.A.E. National…").

[67]This account is based on interviews with construction workers, two NGOs based in the UAE, and the labor counselors or attaches at the embassies of Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Philippines.

[68]Procedure Manual for Ministry of Labour, United Arab Emirates, Version 2.6B, prepared by MENA Business Services, [no date], section B-1, "Group Labour Permit," pp. 24, 27. Companies wishing to sponsor more than 50 workers at once may apply for a group labor permit, which expedites the procedure's initial phases, instead of applying for individual labor permits. Ibid. Applying for renewal of a labor permit also costs 200 dirhams. Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, Ministerial Decree No. 88 (2006), January 25, 2006, Article 1.

[69] Pursuant to Cabinet Decision No. 19 of 2005, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs classifies companies as "A," "B," or "C", with "A" companies paying the lowest fees. "A" companies have 30 per cent or less of their workers from one nationality, have records clear of any violations, and hire a minimum quota of Emiratis annually. (Companies with more than 50 workers are required to maintain an annual two per cent "emiratization quota," according to Cabinet Decision No. 1/259 of 2005.) "B" companies have from 31 per cent to 74 per cent of staff from one nationality, and have violations in their records or have failed to maintain the emiratization quota. "C" companies have 75 per cent or more workers from one nationality, and have violations in their records or fail to maintain the emiratization quota. Hamdan al Harmi, "Ask the Law," August 21, 2005, Khaleej Times,

[70]Article 2, Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, Ministerial Resolution No. 373 (2004), July 6, 2004, Amending the executive rules of bank guarantees issued under Ministerial Resolution No. 218 (2001). Class "A" companies are exempt from the bank guarantee requirement so long as they maintain themselves in that classification. Article 18, Council of Ministers Resolution No. 19 (2005), Amending Fee, Penalty and Bank Guarantee Regulations Enforced by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. Class "C" companies must pay 3000 dirhams per worker, up to a total of 5 million dirhams. Class B companies pay 3000 dirhams per worker for the first 500 workers, then 1000 dirhams per worker, up to a total of 3 million dirhams.

[71]Article 4(b)(10), Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, Ministerial Resolution No. 233 (1998), On Rules of Licensing Employment and Expatriate Manpower Supply Agencies, May 2, 1998.

[72]Article 3, Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, Ministerial Resolution No. 233 (1998), On Rules of Licensing Employment and Expatriate Manpower Supply Agencies, May 2, 1998. See also Article 18,Federal Law No. 8 (1980) on Regulation of Labor Relations ("No licensed employment agent or labour supplier shall demand or accept fromany worker, whether before or after the latter's admission to employment, anycommission or material reward in return for employment, or charge him for anyexpenses thereby incurred, except as may be prescribed or approved by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs").

[73] Human Rights Watch, Building Towers, Cheating Workers, p. 28.

[74] Human Rights Watch interviewed many Indian workers who paid labor supply agencies around 125,000 Indian rupees (or $2800 US; according to the IMF, Indian per capita nominal income in 2007 was $978 US); Pakistanis paid the agencies around 125,000 Pakistani rupees (or $1800 US; per capita income was $909); and Bangladeshis paid agencies up to 250,000 taka (ranging from $4166 US to $3676 from December 2007 to December 2008; per capita income was $455). Our 2006 report cites Bangladeshi workers who paid 150,000 taka to agencies, and an Indian worker who paid 85,000 rupees. Thus, the workers we interviewed in Abu Dhabi in 2008 paid around 50% more (not adjusted for inflation) than those we spoke to in Dubai in 2006.

[75]Human Rights Watch interview with labor counselor (name withheld), Embassy of Bangladesh, Abu Dhabi, July 14, 2008.

[76]Human Rights Watch interview with Thai Zueblin camp supervisor, Moussafa Industrial Area, July 22, 2008. Three other Zueblin workers, from Jaipour, India, said that they and 18 others paid around 80,000 rupees to a "sub-agency" in Mumbai. "The sub-agency told us not to tell the mother agency that we paid them 80,000 because the mother agency only got 25,000." Human Rights watch interview with Zueblin workers, Moussafa Commercial Area, July 21, 2008.

[77]Human Rights Watch interview with labor counselor (name withheld), Embassy of Bangladesh, Abu Dhabi, July 14, 2008.

[78]Human Rights Watch interview with Zueblin worker, Saadiyat Island, July 17, 2008.

[79] Human Rights Watch interview with Leighton worker, Saadiyat Island, September 27, 2008.

[80]Human Rights Watch interview with Indian Al Habtoor worker, Moussafa, July 19, 2008.

[81]Human Rights Watch interview with Indian workers for Al Habtoor, Saadiyat Island, July 24, 2008.

[82] Human Rights Watch interview with Bangladeshi worker (gas tank filler) for Al Jaber, Saadiyat Island, July 20, 2008.

[83]Human Rights Watch interview with Bangladeshi worker for Al Habtoor, July 24, 2008.

[84]Human Rights Watch interview with Pakistani worker for Zueblin, July 25, 2008.

[85]Human Rights Watch interview with Pakistani crane assistant for Al Habtoor, July 24, 2008.

[86]Human Rights Watch interview with Al Habtoor worker, September 27, 2008.

[87]Saifur Rahman, "Worker shortage a ticking bomb," Gulf News, October 23, 2007,

[88]Human Rights Watch interview with CEO and with Director of Facilities Operations of Dubai-based development company, New York City, August 5, 2008, names withheld upon request.

[89]"Ministry uncovers visa abuse," The National, July 2, 2008.

[90] Letter from Al Habtoor Leighton Group to Human Rights Watch, April 7, 2009.

[91]Letter from Ed. Zueblin AG to Human Rights Watch, April 1, 2009.

[92]Human Rights Watch interview with Indian worker for Al Habtoor, July 24, 2008.

[93]Human Rights Watch interview with Bangladeshi worker for Al Habtoor, July 24, 2008.

[94]Human Rights Watch interview with Bangladeshi worker for Al Jaber, Saadiyat Island, July 20, 2008.

[95]Human Rights Watch interview with Bangladeshi worker for Al Jaber, Saadiyat Island, July 20, 2008.

[96] For example, a Zueblin worker was promised a basic salary of 900 dirhams but was paid 630; an Arabtec employee was promised 1,500 dirhams but "I'm getting much less than that" .

[97]Human Rights Watch interview with Group4Securicor guard, Saadiyat Island, July 21, 2008.

[98]Human Rights Watch interview with Pakistani worked for Al Habtoor, Moussafa labor camps, July 19, 2008.

[99]Lily B. Libo-on and Adel Arafa, "Filipinas complain of contract substitution," Khaleej Times, August 11, 2008, (accessed December 27, 2008). In response to questions about workers who refused to sign contracts in the UAE after being lied to by a labor supply company in their homecountry, the only punishment Bin Demas foresaw for theUAE sponsor, if guilty of perpetuating the fraud, was that he would have to repatriate the workers at his expense.

[100] Human Rights Watch interview with labor counselor (name withheld), Embassy of Bangladesh, Abu Dhabi, July 14, 2008.

[101]Human Rights Watch interview with Nepalese security guard working for Group4Securicor, Saadiyat Island, September 24, 2008; Human Rights Watch interview with Pakistani security guard working for Group4Securicor, Moussafa Industrial Area, September 25, 2008. Both men said these contracts accurately reflected their actual wages, but did not mention that they would be required to work 12 hour shifts with few breaks. Human Rights Watch saw and took photographs of the latter contract.

[102]Human Rights Watch interview with Pakistani worker for Zueblin, July 25, 2008.

[103]International Organisation for Migration (IOM), "Labor Mobility in Asia – Managing the Temporary Contractual Employment Cycle," no date, (accessed December 1, 2008); IOM, "Abu Dhabi Dialogue Concludes with Declaration Paving the Way for Better Management of Temporary Contractual Labour Mobility," January 23, 2008,

[104]Human Rights Watch interview with senior advisor to the Ministry of Labor, Manila, Philippines, October 28, 2008.

[105] According to news reports, the UAE and India signed an MOU on labor regulation on December 14, 2006. Sarikatel, "India and UAE sign landmark MOU on Manpower," December 14, 2006,, accessed March 15, 2009.

[106]"Worker friendly laws make a difference." January 11, 2007. (accessed on December 27, 2008).

[107]Human Rights Watch interviews with labor attaché, Philippines Embassy, Abu Dhabi, July 23, 2008; labor counselor, Bangladesh Embassy, Abu Dhabi, July 14, 2008; labor counselor, Pakistan Embassy, Abu Dhabi, July 23, 2008.

[108]Human Rights Watch interview with Sri Lankan hotel worker, Novotel Center Hotel, Abu Dhabi, September 29. The worker's salary was 825 dirhams per month; his employer provided his accommodation and food.

[109] Human Rights Watch interview with Pascal Gauvin, VP Operations, UAE, InterContinental Hotels Group, Dubai, November 3, 2008.

[110]Human Rights Watch interview with Al Jaber driver, July 20, 2008.

[111]Human Rights Watch interview with ADNH Compass employee, Saadiyat Island, November 18, 2008.

[112] Human Rights Watch interview with Leighton employee, Saadiyat Island, September 27, 2008.

[113] Human Rights Watch interview with Bangladeshi worker for Al Jaber, Saadiyat Island, July 20, 2008.

[114]Other workers in Abu Dhabi, not employed on Saadiyat Island, reported similar practices. A Sri Lankan employee of a cleaning company said that "the first day when we got here [the UAE], we had to sign a blank paper with nothing on it; we don't know what it is, what can they use it for against us. We signed six other blank papers too, seven in total." Human Rights Watch interview with worker for Al Sadiyat Maint. & Cleaning Est. SMC Camp Moussafa, Abu Dhabi, September 24, 2008.

[115]Federal Law No. 8 (1980) on Labor Relations, Chapter VII.

[116]Human Rights Watch interview with labor attaché, Philippines Embassy, Abu Dhabi, November 19, 2008.

[117]Human Rights Watch interview with Mouna Raisi, Ministry of Labor complaints department, Moussafa, Abu Dhabi, November 25, 2008.

[118] Letter from Ed. Zueblin AG to Human Rights Watch, April 1, 2009.

[119]Letter from Al Habtoor Leighton Group to Human Rights Watch, April 7, 2009.

[120]Dubai Court of Cassation, Appeal No. 301-2003, February 28, 2004. A summary of the case, in which an employee sued his employer seeking an order compelling the latter to release his passport , is available at, accessed December 10, 2008.

[121]Samir Salama, "Retaining passports is 'forcible labour'," Gulf News, June 13, 2006, (accessed on December 27, 2008). Regarding the illegality of confiscating passports, the article also refers to unspecified court rulings and a directive issued to all government departments by Lieutenant General Shaikh Saif Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who was then undersecretary of the Ministry of Interior, on December 25, 2002.

[122]Article 5 of Ministerial Order No. 721 of 2006 states that

if an employee is caught in a situation in breach of conditions of the work permit and his firm failed to inform the Labour Ministry about his absence from work for over three months, the sponsorship of the employee shall be cancelled, he will be banned, and the firm will be compelled to pay the value of an air ticket to his home country and the due fine till the date of visa cancellation. The employer shall also be fined Dh 10,000 [$2717] for the delay in correcting the status of his laborer, and his establishment will be demoted to category C. If the firm knows about the place of the absconding laborer and has applied for registering the absconding notification after the three-month period or more from the date of his absconding, the application will be accepted but the company will have to pay the accumulated fines plus Dh 10,000 - a violation fine - and the employee's sponsorship will be cancelled with a one-year ban on working in the UAE.

"Employees absent over7 days to be listed as absconders," Khaleej Times, September 12, 2006,, accessed March 30, 2009. .

[123]Letter from TDIC to Human Rights Watch, January 26, 2009.

[124]Letter from Ed. Zueblin AG to Human Rights Watch, April 1, 2009.

[125]Letter from Al Habtoor Leighton Group to Human Rights Watch, April 7, 2009.

[126] Ministerial Resolution No. 27/1 (1991), Specifying the zones and places far from cities referred to in Law No. 8 Regulating Labor Affairs (1980), Article 1 (Al Saadiyat is the fourteenth location listed in Abu Dhabi). According to Article 101 of the Law Regulating Labor Affairs, " Each employer employing workers in areas remote from towns and not covered by regular means of transport shall provide his workers with the following services:

                        1- Suitable means of transport.

                        2- Suitable living accommodation.

                        3- Drinking water.

                        4- Adequate food supplies.

                        5- First-aid facilities.

                        6- Recreation and sports facilities.

                        […] Save for food supplies, the cost of the services referred to in this Article shall be borne by the employer and none of it may be charged to the workers."

[127]The Ministry of Labor specified that any "master" shall make "suitable means of transport," including shared taxis and paid buses, available to workers on a remote location. Ministerial Resolution No. 27/1 (1991), Article 3.

[128]Human Rights Watch interview with Al Jaber workers, Saadiyat Island, July 20, 2008; Human Rights Watch interview with Al Habtoor worker, Saadiyat Island, July 24, 2008 ("I've left this island only two times in the last four months, once for a sightseeing trip to the city, once to send money home").   

[129]Human Rights Watch interview with security guard and truck driver for Al Jaber, Saadiyat Island, September 27, 2008.

[130]A Pakistani laborer for Al Habtoor said he had left Saadiyat twice in four months, once "for sightseeing," once to wire money. Human Rights Watch interview, Saadiyat Island, July 24, 2008.

[131]Human Rights Watch interview with assistant camp manager for Abu Dhabi National Hotels Compass, Saadiyat Island, July 24, 2008.

[132]In addition to a UAE-wide information telephone hotline, the Ministry of Labor is reportedly setting up a special hotline in Abu Dhabi that will allow workers to initiate complaints without needing to be physically present at the Ministry of Labor complaints department. However, workers must still present themselves at the relevant Ministry department where their work permits were issued before their cases can be adjudicated. Human Rights Watch interview with Ms. Mouna Raisi, Ministry of Labor complaints department, Moussafa, Abu Dhabi, November 25, 2008.

[133]Human Rights Watch interview with four Nepalese workers for Abu Dhabi National Hotels Compass, Saadiyat Island, November 18, 2008.

[134]ILO: Abolition of forced labour, General Survey of the Report relating to the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29), Article 2(1). A second, supplementary ILO instrument on forced labour, Convention No. 105, was adopted in 1957. Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No. 57), Report III (Part 4B); ILC, 65th Session, 1979.

[135]ILO, Human Trafficking and Forced Labor Exploitation: Guidelines for Legislation and Law Enforcement: Special Action Programme to Combat Forced Labor, 2005, Geneva, pp. 17-21.

[136] According to Article 63 of Federal Law No. 5 (1980), "The minimum wage and the cost-of-living index payable to workers in general or in a particular area or occupation shall be fixed by a federal decree based on a proposal to be made by the Minister of Labour and Social Affairs and approved by the Council of Ministers."

[137] Calculated based on an average salary of 800 dirhams per month for 11 months, plus 650 dirhams for the month of Ramadan, and an exchange rate of 3.67 dirhams per US dollar.

[138] Higher-paid workers we spoke to included a crane operator who earned a basic salary of 2000 Dirhams per month, one truck driver who earned 1600 dirhams per month, and one truck driver who earned 1400 dirhams per month. Human Rights Watch interviews with, respectively, Zueblin crane operator, July 21, 2008; Al Jaber truck driver, September 27, 2008; and Al Jaber truck driver, July 20, 2008.

[139]Of the semi-skilled construction workers Human Rights Watch interviewed who provided information about their basic salaries, 15 workers for Zueblin said they were paid 630 dirhams per month; ten workers for Al Habtoor, which the workers said supplies labor on Leighton projects in the UAE,, were paid between 500 and 650 dirhams per month; three workers for Leighton said they received 520 dirhams per month; eight workers for Al Jaber were paid 520 dirhams per month, with a ninth earning 650; and one Arabtec worker received 500 dirhams per month.

[140]Federal Law No. 8 (1980) on Regulation of Labor Relations, Article 67.

[141]Human Rights Watch spoke to 15 Zueblin workers who reported receiving a basic wage of 630 dirhams, a food allowance of 230 or 240 dirhams (around $64), plus overtime of 160 dirhams ($43) per month. If these men work 26 days per month, their basic salary (eight hours/day) and overtime salary (two hours/day) both work out to 3 dirhams ($0.82) per hour.

[142]Human Rights Watch interviewed four masons working with Al Habtoor who received 3.9 dirhams per hour in overtime pay, as compared with 3.125 dirhams ($0.85) per hour basic salary. Human Rights Watch interviews, Moussafa, July 18, 2008.

[143]Human Rights Watch interviews with three Al Habtoor workers, Saadiyat Island, July 24, 2008.

[144]Two Al Jaber workers reported receiving basic salaries of 520 dirhams ($141) a month, or 2.5 dirhams ($0.68) per hour (8 hours daily, 26 days per month); they reported working three hours overtime at two dirhams an hour. Human Rights Watch interview with Al Jaber workers, July 20, 2008.

[145] Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, Ministerial Resolution no. 156 (2003), Wage Protection, Articles 1 and 2 ("Article One: workers appointed with annual, monthly wages must have their wages at least once in a month. Article Two: the wages of the other employees must be paid at least fortnightly").

[146]Salam Hafez, "Ministry of Labour targets violations," The National, March 2, 2009.

[147] Human Rights Watch joint interview with three Bangladeshi workers for Leighton, Saadiyat Island, September 27, 2008.

[148]Human Rights Watch joint interview with Al Habtoor and ATCO workers, Saadiyat Island, September 24, 2008.

[149] Human Rights Watch interview with mason working for Al Habtoor, Saadiyat Island, September 27, 2008.

[150]Rob Corder, "UAE attacks cash-in-hand culture," Khaleej Times, January 4, 2008, (accessed December 26, 2008). Khaleej Times cited former Minister of Labor Dr. Al Ka'abi in January 2008 as saying, "…we announced cabinet decision No.1/133 for the year 2007 in June 2007, to transfer the workers' salaries to their bank accounts."

[151] Letter from Ed. Zueblin AG to Human Rights Watch, April 1, 2009.

[152]Letter from Al Habtoor Leighton Group to Human Rights Watch, April 7, 2009.

[153] Human Rights Watch interviews with three Bangladeshi employees of Al Habtoor, Saadiyat Island, November 18, 2008.

[154]Human Rights Watch interviews with two Pakistani guards for Group4Securicor, Moussafa Industrial Area, September 25, 2008.

[155] Article 60 of Federal Law No. 8 (1980) on Labor Relations states, "No amount of money may be deducted from a worker's wage in respect of privateclaims, except in the following cases:

                        1. Repayment of loans or money advances paid to the worker in excess of his entitlements, provided that the                                                 amount deducted in this case shall not exceed 10 per cent of his wage."

[156]Letter from Ed. Zublin AG to Human Rights Watch, April 1, 2009.

[157] Human Rights Watch interview with Al Habtoor employee, Moussafa commercial area, July 19, 2008.

[158] Human Rights Watch interview with Al Habtoor employee, Moussafa commercial area, July 18, 2008.

[159] Federal Law No. 8 (1980) on Labor Relations, Articles 65, 66.

[160]Ibid., Article 70.

[161]Human Rights Watch interview with Zueblin employee, Saadiyat Island, July 17, 2008.

[162] Human Rights Watch interview with Pakistani employee of Al Habtoor, Moussafa Commercial Area, July 19, 2008.

[163] Human Rights Watch interview with Group4Securicor guard, Saadiyat Island, September 24, 2008.

[164]Human Rights Watch interview with Group4Securicor guard, Moussafa Industrial Area, September 25, 2008.

[165] Federal Law No. 8 (1980) on Labor Relations, Article 74.

[166]Federal Law No. 8 (1980) on Labor Relations, Article 75(a)-(b).

[167]Human Rights Watch interview with Zueblin worker, Saadiyat Island, November 18, 2008.

[168]Human Rights Watch with three Al Habtoor workers on a Leighton project, Saadiyat Island, November 18, 2008.

[169]Human Rights Watch interview with Al Habtoor worker, Moussafa commercial area, July 19, 2008.

[170] Letter from Ed. Zueblin AG to Human Rights Watch, April 1, 2009.

[171]Mitya Underwood, "Everyone in Dubai to have health care," The National, June 9, 2008,, accessed March 10, 2009.

[172]Workers are tested for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and other diseases after arriving in the UAE; those who test positive are deported.

[173]Human Rights Watch interview with Al Habtoor camp supervisor, Moussafa, July 18, 2008.

[174]Human Rights Watch interview with emergency department head, Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, Abu Dhabi, November 23, 2008.

[175]Human Rights Watch interview with Al Habtoor employee, Moussafa commercial area, July 18, 2008.

[176] Human Rights Watch interview with Al Habtoor employee, Saadiyat Island, July 24, 2008.

[177] Human Rights Watch interview with Arabtec employee, Moussafa commercial area, July 18, 2008.

[178]Human Rights Watch interview with Al Habtoor employee, Saadiyat Island, July 24, 2008.

[179]Human Rights Watch interview with Zueblin employee, Moussafa industrial area, July 25, 2008.

[180]Human Rights Watch interview with Zueblin employee, Moussafa industrial area, July 25, 2008.

[181]Letter from Ed. Zueblin AG to Human Rights Watch, April 1, 2009.

[182] Letter from Al Habtoor Leighton Group to Human Rights Watch, April 7, 2009.

[183]Sheikh Khalifa issued Health Insurance Law No. 32 of 2005 on October 9, 2005. Implementing regulations were passed on July 1, 2006, as the Abu Dhabi Health Insurance Regulation Bill. Health Authority – Abu Dhabi, "Questions and answers," [no date,], accessed March 18, 2009.

[184]Non-Resident Keralites' Affairs Department, "Special Announcement: Embassy of India, Abu Dhabi, Subject: Update on Changes in UAE Labour Law & other related developments," no date, available at (accessed December 3, 2008).

[185]Human Rights Watch interview with TDIC Executive Director and Public Relations Assistant Director, Abu Dhabi, November 4, 2008.

[186]"He's an Indian guy who had been working here for three years. The company paid his medical bill. He's in his room now; he can't move. He's getting paid his basic salary." Human Rights Watch interview with Al Habtoor worker, Saadiyat Island, November 18, 2008.

[187]Human Rights Watch interview with emergency department head, Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, Abu Dhabi, November 23, 2008.

[188] According to figures provided by the hospital, "heat related cases" admitted to Sheikh Khalifa Medical City during July and August fell from 229 and 155 in 2005, to 58 and 82 in 2008. Figures on file with Human Rights Watch.

[189]Human Rights Watch interview with labor counselor (name withheld), Embassy of Bangladesh, Abu Dhabi, July 14, 2008.

[190]Human Rights Watch letter to S.K. Nangia, First Secretary, Embassy of India, September 8, 2008. Human Rights Watch also called and emailed other embassy officials, and attempted to arrange meetings in person at the embassy on two occasions.

[191]Human Rights Watch interview with NGO volunteers (names withheld), Dubai, July 26, 2008.

[192]Human Rights Watch interview with NGO volunteer (name withheld), Dubai, July 26, 2008.

[193] Human Rights Watch interview with head of emergency department, Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, Abu Dhabi, November 23, 2008. It was not possible to obtain permission from the police department to interview the police officer stationed in the emergency department during Human Rights Watch's visit to the hospital.

[194]"Dubai municipality must fess up to accident figures, says industry," Construction Week, December 8, 2008, (accessed December 28, 2008).

[195]Federal Law No. 8 (1980) on Labor Regulation, Article 167.

[196] Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, The Protection of the Rights of Workers in the United Arab Emirates: Annual Report 2007.

[197] Human Rights Watch interviews with Zueblin workers, Moussafa Industrial Area, July 22, 2008.

[198]Human Rights Watch telephone interview with construction company owner (name withheld), Dubai, September 26, 2008.

[199]Diaa Hadid, "Work-related accidents and deaths 'going unreported,'" Gulf News, November 21, 2005.

[200] Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, Annual Report 2007.

[201]"Boost Number of Labor Inspectors: UAE tackling labor issues, says Al Ka'abi," UAE government press release, March 25, 2007,,_says_Al_Kaabi/24549.htm.

[202]US Department of State, "2008 Human Rights Report: United Arab Emirates," February 25, 2009, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor,, accessed March 18, 2009.

[203]Workers did not admit to being members of self-insurance organizations either. However, news media reported in 2008 that some Pakistani workers in the Moussafa labor camps in Abu Dhabi have created an "illegal … underground insurance scheme based on the tribal structure back home. 'When we come here,' one member of the scheme tells me, ' we register with our tribal elders, and when one of us is injured and is sent home, or dies, the elders collect 30 dirhams from each of us and send the money home to his family.'" Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, "We need slaves to build monuments," Guardian, October 8, 2008.

[204]Human Rights Watch interview with Al Habtoor worker, Moussafa labor camp, Abu Dhabi, July 18, 2005.

[205] Human Rights Watch interview with worker for Al Habtoor, Moussafa labor camp, July 19, 2008.

[206] Most are construction workers. However, in early July, Dubai taxi workers went on strike for 12 hours to protest excessive fines (for example, companies required drivers to pay fines of up to 35,000 dirhams, or $9,529, for a faulty global positioning system). "Drivers claimed that more than 1,000 employees stayed off the roads," according to UAE's National newspaper, but "Ammar bin Tamim, director of Dubai Taxi, said the figure was closer to 150 or 200, while an official Roads and Transport Authority statement said just 50 drivers participated."

[207]Mahmoud Habboush, "Workers' rights concerns lead to labour overhaul," May 17, 2008, The National,, accessed April 19, 2009.

[208]The legislative committee of the Ministry of Justice reportedly approved a bill allowing the formation of trade unions in the private sector in October 2004, but this has not been passed despite several announcements that it would be.

[209]Federal Law No. 8 (1980) on Regulation of Labor Relations, Article 120 (10).

[210]Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, Ministerial Resolution No. 307 (2003), Concerning collective Labour disputes, May 31, 2003, available at According to the resolution, "A collective labour dispute is any discord between the master and his workers [relating] to a joint interest for all the workers or some of them in a foundation, an occupation, a craft [or] a specific sector"( Article 1). Federal Law No. 8 (1980) on Regulation of Labor Relations states, "A worker may be temporarily suspended from work if he is accused of committing … an offence associated with [a] strike" (Article 112). This article's vague language is unclear whether striking itself, or only criminal offenses committed during strikes, may be penalized.

[211]International Trade Union Confederation, "United Arab Emirates," 2007 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights,, accessed March 18, 2009.

[212] Jim Krane, "UAE to give workers right to form unions," Associated Press, March 30, 2006; Wafa Issa, "Revised Labour Law Ready in August," Gulf News, July 9, 2006,, accessed March 18, 2009.

[213]Human Rights Watch interview with Zublin worker, Moussafa Industrial Area, Abu Dhabi, July 25, 2008.

[214]Human Rights Watch interview with Al Habtoor worker, Saadiyat Island, September 27, 2008.

[215]Human Rights Watch interview with seven Zueblin workers from the "tribal areas" of Pakistan, Moussafa Industrial Area, Abu Dhabi, July 25, 2008. The men said a Pakistani carpenter named Zulfikar was pursuing a case at the Ministry of Labor's complaints department in Moussafa after his employer informed him that he would not be eligible for his end-of-employment gratuity, equivalent to 21 days' salary per year worked, until he had completed five years' service; legally he has the right to receive it at the expiry of his three year work visa.

[216] Human Rights Watch interview with Labor Attaché, Philippines Embassy, Abu Dhabi, November 19, 2008. For other disagreements that involve money claims, such as a claim for overtime pay that lack no evidence to show the worker did the OT he claims, or health benefits, workers may submit their complaints to the Shari`a Court in Abu Dhabi, or the Ministry of Labor will "elevate" the worker's claim to the Court. The Ministry of Labor and the Shari`a Court will provide interpreters if necessary.

[217] Letter from Ed. Zueblin AG to Human Rights Watch, April 1, 2009.

[218]Letter from Al Habtoor Leighton Group to Human Rights Watch, April7, 2009.

[219]  Human Rights Watch correspondence with these companies and institutions is available upon request.

[220]Letter from TDIC to Human Rights Watch, January 26, 2009.

[221]According to TDIC, its contractual provisions require contractors on Saadiyat Island, inter alia, to abide by applicable laws and safety regulations; prepare monthly progress reports which includes safety statistics and details of hazardous incidents and activities; provide and maintain all necessary accommodation and welfare facilities for its personnel; take all reasonable precautions to maintain the health and safety of the contractor's personnel; ensure that medical staff, first aid facilities, sick bay and ambulance service are available at all times at the Site and at any accommodation for contractor's and TDIC's personnel; appoint a suitably qualified accident prevention officer at the site, responsible for maintaining safety and protection against accidents who shall have the authority to issue instructions and take protective measures to prevent accidents; maintain records and make reports concerning health, safety and welfare as reasonably required, and provide details of any accident as soon as practicable after its occurrence. Ibid.

[222]TDIC, "Letter to Contractors re. Staff and Labor Requirements," January 2009, copy on file with Human Rights Watch.

[223] TDIC, "CSR Report 2009," no date, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[224]  The agency's mission "is to implement the cooperation agreement signed on March 6, 2007 between France and the United Arab Emirates on the establishment of a world museum in Abu Dhabi." "Constituent general assembly of the Agence France-Museums," July 11, 2007,, accessed April 22, 2009.

[225]  Social Accountability International, SA 8000:2008, "About the Standard," p. 2, available for download at

[226]  Letter from Human Rights Watch to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, February 5, 2007; letter from Human Rights Watch to Gehry Partners LLC, February 8, 2007.In a letter received on December 20, 2007, the Guggenheim Foundation informed Human Rights Watch that the Abu Dhabi museum's employment policies would be in accordance with international museum standards, as well as with the laws of the United Arab Emirates. Human Rights Watch noted in response that UAE laws fell short of or violated international workers' rights laws, and requested clarification as to how international museum standards speak to labor practices. Letter from Human Rights Watch to the Guggenheim Foundation, January 29, 2008.

[227]  Human Rights Watch meeting with Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation officials, New York, April 18, 2008.

[228]  The NYU "Statement of Labor Values," as discussed in the Summary, is available at

[229]  Human Rights Watch letters to these architects are available upon request.

[230] Human Rights Watch letter to senior advisor to the UAE Ministry of Labor, March 20, 2009.

[231] Human Rights Watch letter to head of the the General Department of Residency and Naturalization, Ministry of Interior,.November 17, 2008 and March 10, 2009.