Sunday, April 30, 2006

Emirates Economist: Unrepentant apologist for UAE

A Daily Dose of Architecture has a nice post on the labor riot at the Burj Dubai worksite in late March. The comments are even more interesting.

But Daily Dose and I are quite far apart on the issue of whether the workers are exploited or in what sense they are exploited. Daily Dose writes:
I have to admit that stuff like this makes me so angry it's hard to facilitate a response. The use and abuse of poorer people in poorer countries by places like Dubai and the United States is just another part of the situation where a few rich people own and get most of the pie.
But workers come to Dubai on their own volition because they believe opportunities here are better than in their home countries. How is that exploitation? It's not.

Daily Dose is in the same camp as those who believe Nike is evil for creating jobs in low-wage countries. I fear I do not have the skill to convince critics of Nike and Dubai to share my perspective. If Nike and Dubai did not exist their employees would be worse off. If you care so much about the employees at Nike and in Dubai, why don't you open up your pocketbook to them?

So I am an unrepentant apologist for Dubai. But I am a critic as well. What is immoral is to attract workers under false pretenses, to not deliver on the terms and conditions that were promised. It appears that this occurs in the UAE on a widespread basis.

Because so many UAE firms so often fail to honor their obligations towards workers this creates a cloud of ambiguity that workers can exploit. How can an observer tell who is telling the truth in a labor dispute? A commenter on the Daily Dose post quotes someone on the scene:
I was on site when things happened. At Laing O'Rourke we have best card punching system with eye scan identification on site. LOR employs legal labor on site with best compensation in industry. Also LOR maintains the best labour camps with all medical facilities. LOR is the only company in Gulf which pays its labourers on time. After the incident the labourers supported the facilities of LOR to labour commissioner.

As we employ a lot of labour force, in the evening time when work is over labourers rush to their buses, everyone of them wants to board the first bus. This places their own safety at risk due to stampede. LOR committed to safety of its employees made arrangements so that workers can come to buses without rushing in safe manner. (Imagine 3000 workers force). Some trouble makers who were identified by police had been trying to mess things and went on rampage.
. . .
I am not saying it because I work in Laing O'Rourke, but as one of few architects who work with contracting firms - I am more aware of workers conditions. Of course these cannot be compared to luxuries enjoyed by white collar jobs of us Architects but one fact is true. Asian workers are best paid with safe & healthy environment with Laing O'Rourke. Our low AFR is much below industry standard.
Thanks to SamuraiSam for drawing my attention to the Daily Dose post and to this particular comment.

Aside: Look at this comment to the same Daily Dose post on "the effect that Dubai's construction industry is having on the international recruitment of experienced construction managers".

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