Workers demands were not legitimate, says contractor after Downtown Dubai protest

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Emaar said on Tuesday that it has taken urgent steps to ensure that a contractor resolves issues that resulted in hundreds of foreign construction workers staging a rare public protest outside the opulent Dubai Mall on Tuesday.

Dubai authorities deployed riot police to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Boulevard in downtown Dubai, where the world’s tallest building is located, blocking some roads while negotiators tried to settle a dispute about overtime pay.

Click here to see video of the protest.  

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The workers, from south Asia, said the company had stopped overtime work and pay at a time when basic salaries were too low.

An Emaar spokesperson said: “Emaar works with established and large contracting companies that have a good track-record and strong organisational structure for our projects. We have clear guidelines for our contractors to ensure that they follow industry best practices.

“We have stipulated strict measures in terms of health, safety and worker conditions that not only comply with the UAE government regulations but also to international standards in the construction industry. Emaar is taking this matter seriously and have highlighted the incident to the senior management of the contractors to ensure that matters are resolved at the earliest possible.”

Major-General Khamis Mattar Al Mazeina, commander-in-chief of Dubai Police, said in comments published by news agency WAM: “Dubai Police interfered and managed to resolve the issue in less than an hour, after workers were promised that their demands will be carefully considered.”

He added that the Dubai Police presence at the scene was just a “normal precautionary measure to maintain order and ensure optimal level of public safety, including the workers”, saying the situation was settled in a “very professional and civilised manner”.

Workers, wearing green uniforms, remained at their construction site near Dubai Mall while negotiations went on. They cheered and applauded when they were informed that the dispute had been settled and as police began leaving the area.

Mohammed, a Pakistani employee of Arabian Construction Co, said a worker’s basic salary was less than 500 dirhams ($136) and with overtime pay, one could make around 1,100 dirhams. “We don’t have overtime work any more so we’re striking. I’m not afraid to ask for my rights,” he said.

Details of the agreement between the protesters and the company were not announced, but the company’s general manager Hassan Auji later told Reuters that the workers’ demands were not legitimate.

“Their main complaint was on incentives – which, by law, we are not obliged to pay,” Auji said by telephone.

Dubai, the business and tourism hub of the United Arab Emirates, is enjoying a construction boom following its recovery from the 2008 financial crisis; hundreds of thousands of migrant workers staff the UAE’s building sites. Dissent is tightly controlled and public protests are generally prohibited.

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