Strikes threaten Dubai building boom
While laborers have long complained about working conditions in this Gulf city known for its avant-garde skyscrapers, luxury dwellings and archipelagoes of artificial islands, their recent action comes as contractors are struggling to find workers to complete their ambitious projects.
The boom has been possible due to plentiful investment from oil-rich neighbors and armies of non-unionized south Asian workers whose fear of deportation, until recently, kept them from voicing discontent over low wages.
"The cost of living here has increased so much in the past two years that I cannot survive with my salary," said Rajesh Kumar, a 24-year-old worker from the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh who earns $149 a month.
A booming economy in India also means that many there no longer see the need to travel to Dubai and the Gulf, said Bernard Raj, managing director of the Dubai-based Keith International, which supplies Indian workers.
"In the past, when we go for recruitment of workers we were able to choose whomever we wanted. Now the turnout of candidates is very low," he said, estimating that at least 40 percent more workers were needed for the city's projects.
With the usual labor markets like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka drying up, labor companies are turning to less traditional places like Tibet and North Korea.
At the root of the problem is the Emirati Dirham's close connection to the U.S. dollar, which has seen it plummet in value, further decreasing laborers' already low salaries.
Kumar and his fellow workers said they asked their employer, Al Habtoor Engineering Enterprises, for a pay increase several times, but management was not willing to address the issue.