The end of a strike in Arabtec, resulting in the departure of hundreds of workers to their home countries, has once again highlighted that labour reforms in the United Arab Emirates are still a work-in-progress.

The end of a strike in a well-known construction company, which has led to the departure of hundreds of workers to their home countries, again highlights the fact that labour reforms in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are a work-in-progress.

For four days, blue collar workers demanding a monthly salary increase of $95 instead of the three meals that were being provided by Arabtec — the largest construction company in the UAE — refused to work.

Dubai police chief Dahi Khalfan al-Tamim had last week said around 200 workers were being repatriated after they declared they were no longer interested in working for the company. He said these workers had been detained pending their repatriation. “The police doesn’t interfere with company matters but the workers don’t want to work and they asked to leave,” Reuters quoted him as saying.

Indian workers

Most of the protesting workers were from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

A UAE daily, The National, has reported that 463 workers were heading home voluntarily, and were not being deported. The immigration authorities and the Labour Department will now take the call on whether these men can return later.

The incident has drawn international attention to the status of labour reforms, at a time when UAE companies including Arabtec are involved in prestigious projects like the construction of a branch of the Louvre museum in Abu Dhabi.

The region’s construction giants are also building world-class football stadiums ahead of the 2022 FIFA world cup in Qatar. The International Trade Union Confederation has decided to lobby to secure better treatment for workers engaged in the construction of football stadiums in Qatar.

Analysts point out that the authorities have made credible efforts to improve working and living conditions of expatriate workers.

Electronic transfer of salaries has now become routine, and blue collar workers have benefited from an improvement in the standards of accommodation in labour camps.

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