Monday, April 10, 2006

Burning their bridges - no exit

Expat workers in the UAE have no exit. Once you have signed on with an employer it is next to impossible - particularly in the low-wage sector - to legally change jobs. You can quit, but quitting has little purpose if you have no where else to market your talents except to go back to where you came from - assuming you have the resources to pay for the ticket home.

Thus, if your employer does not live up to his or her side of the contract with you, then you are likely to stay with them anyway in the hope that you will eventually get your due. In contrast, if you could easily change jobs then you would change employers if your current employer failed to respect the contract. Meaning, your employer has every incentive to treat you well if you can credibly threaten to leave. Which explains why so many employers in the UAE fail in their responsibilities to pay their workers on time or to provide them the living and working conditions they promised.

One of the ways that unions might be a positive force for employers is to give workers voice. When workers have voice employers get advance notice that workers may be about to exit for better job opportunities that have arisen in the labor market either because wages in the market have increased or the firm is unwittingly doing something that makes work there relatively unattractive.

In the case of the UAE labor market institutions - no exit by individuals - voice and collective action are all low-wage workers have, if they have anything. Thus, it is not surprising that they are driven to take collective action.

Recently the UAE announced that unions would be formed: Labourers will be allowed to form unions. Quote,
We’re going to have one union, with separate representatives for the construction, fishing, agriculture and other industries,” Labour Minister Ali Al Kaabi told The Associated Press. . . . “The law will control how strikes will be conducted. It will outline rights, the do’s and don’ts. There will be a labour representative who will be our point of contact. It will make contact with the labourers much easier.”
I believe that's what you call a company union. This move may be window dressing. Or it may be part of a pattern of central control of labor movements (in both senses of that phrase). UAE workers don't need a collective labor movement. They need individual job mobility. But that would involve trusting the Invisible Hand. Too scary.

Here's the latest on what the workers are working on: Taipei Times - archives. Some quotes:
The construction workers, packed together inside the tiny hut in one of Dubai's harsh desert labor camps, are breaking the most fundamental of all the draconian laws governing immigrants within the United Arab Emirates (UAE) -- they are holding a union meeting, a practice that is banned in all but one of the Gulf States.
. . .
According to 36-year-old Kamal (not his real name), who spearheaded the Burj Dubai protest, more needs to be done.

"These protests received attention in the press and were forgotten about, we need to do more. I was involved in a sit-down protest on the motorway last month, but the police came along with sticks and beat us on the backs and head. Many of my friends were hospitalized and deported," he said.

"The riot got a lot of attention, but things haven't improved for us. We already know what we have to do next, we take our protests into the malls and to the beaches," Kamal said.

"Our situation needs international attention and only by unsettling tourists can we achieve this. They need to see how desperate we really are," he said.
Kamal certainly knows how to identify the soft underbelly that feeds Dubai. A real economic savant.

A classic stratagem to increase your ferocity in battle and intimidate your opponent into concession is to burn your bridges behind you so can't exit and you have to stand and fight. Ironically, it's not the workers that have done the conflagration honors, it is the UAE government labor policies that have driven the workers to collective action. No exit.

For the Taipei Time link thanks go to Axonsax posting at UAE community blog.

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home