Monday, March 27, 2006

The Burj Dubai Labor Riot: Tuesday 21 Mar 2006

At the cusp of this blog's recent Yemeni hiatus a riot broke out at the site of the construction site of what is projected to be the tallest building in the world. If you've arrived here looking for coverage of the story, I direct you to this post at DM Blog where BD is on the case. It's link rich with newspaper accounts. And BD adds his own excellent analysis. He's also provided an extensive amount of background on the unskilled labor sector in the UAE.

BD asks, why the Burj Dubai, where the workers are comparatively better paid and are provided better working and living conditions. His answer:
This unrest was, therefore, not about the usual issue of workers not receiving salaries for months or intolerable living conditions. Why then did the protest erupt in violence? On the face of it, it is rather ironic. It appears in fact, that the uprising was more spontaneous than planned. I would speculate that there was in essence a high degree of frustration over the transport and security issues which was ignited on account of the large numbers involved. I would surmise that this was the critical factor. What was unique in this instance was the combination of both a high level of frustration and large numbers gathered at the massive construction site. It does not represent a typical scenario.
My thoughts, too, ran quickly to why this site and not others. Probably BD is on to something in focusing on the scale of the project and the numbers involved. Most mobs are not far from being unruly because there is safety in numbers. Are there ring leaders to be singled out for punishment? Perhaps. But it is not in the interest of the owners to punish all the protesters - this simply converts a costly work stoppage initiated by the workers into a stoppage prolonged by the prosecutors.

It is in the owner's interest to see work resume by those workers. And why those workers? First by virtue of the sheer size of the project the workers cannot be replaced wholesale. Second, as they work on the project floor to floor the workers are gaining skills in doing the work faster and better.

The workers know this. The maximum the owner is willing to pay the workers is rising. A worker's protest is a way for the workers to extract more from the firm.

As BD wrote "this does not represent a typical scenario." In the typical situation in the Gulf, if workers strike to gain some of the economic rents flowing to the employer, the employer can rather costlessly replace the worker.

UPDATE - I see I'm getting visitors via this link: Pajamas Media: The other immigrant scene. The title of that post is a reference to what has become a hot political issue in the U.S., illegal immigration (see this coverage). If you conclude from this that the U.S. has a recent history of being tight-assed about immigration, consider this amazing world map showing net immigration by country. The U.S. remains the land of opportunity in both the demand (people wish to come to America) and supply (an open door policy) senses.

UPDATE 2 - See, also, Migrants and the Middle East - Welcome to the other side of Dubai which gets to the nub of the workers' issues. It's not clear who is expropriating who:
The interior ministry began negotiations with the labourers but were left somewhat bewildered by this very un-Dubai mood of militancy. "They have no right to continue this strike. I don't know why they don't realise that," said Lieutenant-Colonel Rashid Bakhit Al Jumairi, a ministry investigator.

"They came back to the site, but they still refuse to work. The workers are demanding overtime pay, better medical care and humane treatment from their foremen. The companies have agreed to some of the demands. But the workers agreed to their employment conditions when they signed."

A carpenter from Andhra Pradesh in India, Mangal Prasad, said the action was taken as a last resort. "We just want to be treated like human beings. The way some of foremen behave towards us is very bad. If we complain they say we will get sent back. This is wrong," he said.
"We have also got to work much longer hours than we were contracted to because they want everything finished quickly. So why shouldn't we get overtime pay? That's what happens everywhere else. Most of us aren't saving money at all. We are still paying back the loan we took to get here."
Thanks to the Canadian Expat Countertenor for the link.

UPDATE 3 - Welcome to Instapundit readers. Glad to have you drop in.

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