Burj Dubai workers strike for pay in the United Arab Emirates, 2007

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Timing
Time Period:  
27 October
2007
to
10 November
2007
Location and Goals
Country: 
United Arab Emirates
Location City/State/Province: 
Dubai
Goals: 
Workers demanded higher pay and improved housing; many workers demanded an increase of 500 dirhams (US$136) a month as well as improvements in accommodation and transport to and from workplaces
 

In 2006, countries in the Persian Gulf region were experiencing an economic boom, including Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. The total value of new construction exceeded $200 billion in that year alone. In order to sustain such rapid growth, 10 million migrant laborers lived and worked in the region, coming from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. Working conditions were poor. Construction work was dangerous, employers would take workers’ passports, and minimum wages were often not paid in full or were withheld entirely. Questionable recruitment policies left workers in constant debt and workers often lived in cramped labor camps on the outskirts of cities.

In 2006, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), construction had been underway for two years on the Burj Dubai skyscraper, which when completed in 2009 was the tallest human-made structure built, at 828 m (2,717 ft). About 700,000 migrant laborers worked on the project.

That same year, the Indian Embassy confirmed 109 cases of suicide by Indian workers in the UAE. Working and living conditions were poor, and strike action and trade unions were illegal. In March, about 2,500 workers at the Burj Dubai site walked off the job site and went on strike over pay and work conditions. Strikers committed extensive property damage on construction vehicles, cars, and offices. Human Rights Watch called on the UAE government to “end abusive labor practices.” At the end of the strike, the chief of Dubai's police pledged to prosecute any employers not meeting health and safety standards.

In late 2007, workers on the Burj Dubai took action again. On October 27, 2007, over 4,500 workers building the Burj Dubai, most of whom were Indian, laid down their tools and walked out in protest over pay and work conditions. They worked for the company Arabtec, who employed around 34,000 workers in the region. Workers demanded higher pay and improved housing; others said they hadn’t been paid at all. Arabtec employees were paid an average of 700 dirhams (US$190) a month; many workers demanded an increase of 500 dirhams (US$136) as well as improvements in accommodation and transport to and from workplaces.

By October 28, the strike had spread to three other areas in the city. However, soon after, police moved in and began returning strikers to their accommodations quarters; it is unknown how coercive or forceful this relocation was.

The next day, about 2,000 workers blocked the main highway to Abu Dhabi, worsening the usual traffic jams. Reports indicate that the total number of striking workers had decreased some since the previous days.

Police started violently removing strikers. Police claimed workers attacked civilians and police and committed vandalism, provoking the police action, but they never provided figures for those injured. Reports indicate injuries on both sides, but it is unclear the extent and nature of the violence.

By October 30, news reports claimed hundreds of laborers had already been deported. 4,000 were reportedly facing expulsion according to senior labor ministry official Humaid bin Deemas.

On November 1, the labor ministry hailed an end to the strike action following visits from ministry officials, police, and an Indian consular representative, but details of the deal were not known.

However, by November 7, Arabtec acknowledged that only 1,500 of its staff had returned to work. (It is unknown if this figure is out of the original 4,500 strikers or the entire 34,000 Arabtec staff; the latter would suggest a large growth of the strike, but information could not be found). In fact, the strike had spread to 36 Arabtec labor camps across the UAE. The company offered to raise workers salary by 100 dirhams and publicly claimed workers would concede to the offer. However, most workers rejected the increase for larger demands. Arabtec spokesman Ammar Tuqan said he was ready to “examine the question at a later date but on condition that staff first returned to work.”

The strike continued for the next several days, but on November 10, Arabtec announced again that workers had agreed to return to work. Arabtec executive chairman Riad Kamal claimed that ‘all employees had ended their strike following an agreement with management.’ Further coverage of the strike was unavailable after the second announcement; however, there was no word from strike leaders or workers about the end of the strike. Further research might reveal exactly how mutual the reported ‘agreement’ was.

The strike was possibly the longest labor action in the UAE up to that time. Some reports suggest the total numbers of strikers was around 40,000 construction workers, a majority of them Indians. Also, other reports indicate that out of the 4,000 workers facing deportation, only 159 were charged, 90 of whom were Indian. There is little information regarding the outcome of the strike in terms of changes in wages or living accommodation, but the UAE made public statements that it would ‘urgently’ review the wages of the workers in the area following the strike (similar claims were made after the 2006 walkout).

Research Notes
Influences: 

In March 2006, about 2,500 workers at the Burj Dubai site walked off the job site and went on strike over pay and working conditions. Strikers committed extensive property damage to construction vehicles, cars, and offices. Further research should be conducted on the extent of labor struggle in the region leading up to the 2007 strike to better assess possible influences. (1)

Sources: 
"40,000 workers on strike in UAE." Press Trust of India 9 Nov 2007, accessed online through LexisNexis Academic.

Abou-Ragheb, Laith. “UAE to deport 4,000 Asian workers after strikes.” Agence France Presse -- English 30 Oct 2007, accessed online through LexisNexis Academic.

"AlJazeeraEnglish: Blood, Sweat and Tears - 18 Aug 07 (2 Parts)." YouTube. Web. 13 Mar 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hMxbpsw_UTE> (Part 1), <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fOF97JrUej4&feature=relmfu> (Part 2).

"Burj Dubai owners say strike over." Aljazeera Business 12 Nov 2007, Web. <http://english.aljazeera.net/business/2007/11/2008525135410266894.html>.

Florian, Jeff. "Burj Dubai strike continues." AME Info 8 Nov 2007, Web. <http://www.ameinfo.com/137561.html>.

Mahjoub, Taieb. "Strike rages on at world's tallest tower in Dubai." Agence France Presse – English 7 Nov 2007, accessed online through LexisNexis Academic.

"Strike halts work at Dubai tower." BBC News 23 Mar 2006, Web. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/4836632.stm>.

"Tallest building workers on strike." CNN World 29 Oct 2007, Web. <http://articles.cnn.com/2007-10-29/world/dubai.strike_1_striking-workers-burj-dubai-tallest-structure?_s=PM:WORLD>.

Trabelsi, Habib. “Bosses say strike over at world's tallest tower in Dubai.” Agence France Presse -- English 10 Nov 2007, accessed online through LexisNexis Academic.

Trabelsi, Habib. "UAE hails deal to end strike at world's tallest building." Agence France Presse -- English 1 Nov 2007, accessed online through LexisNexis Academic.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Zein Nakhoda 14/05/2011