World Economy

UN Probes UAE’s Slavish Treatment of workers

UN Probes UAE’s Slavish Treatment of workersUN Probes UAE’s Slavish Treatment of workers

The Persian Gulf Arab state’s physical abuse and slave-like treatment of migrant workers is making headlines again, as the UN starts its own investigation, following an official complaint at the international level, which detailed an “alarming frequency” of cases.

The complaint was lodged by the International Trade Union Confederation for “non-observance by the United Arab Emirates of the Forced Labor Convention” of the International Labor Organization (ILO), RT reported.

Allegations of a “serious breach” of conduct were accompanied by those detailing a “[failure] to maintain a legal framework adequate to protect the rights of migrant workers” under a new amendment, which compels signatories to work at eradicating forced labor.

This follows on from numerous allegations that domestic workers across the Persian Gulf state having been subjected to horrendous physical, verbal, sexual and other types of abuse.

They were supported by Human Rights Watch, who believes some 146,000 domestic female workers from Southeast Asia to be among the most at-risk groups in the UAE. According to HRW and ITUC, Abu Dhabi has lost western trust and will no longer be able to wave away outsiders with assurances that migrant-worker conditions in the country are adequate.

The international labor body is investigating the ITUC claim that domestic staff and construction workers – many of them working on the $27 billion Saadiyat luxury complex of resorts and museums – are frequently “trapped in exploitative practices that may amount to forced labor.”

In October, HRW released a damning report – the result of interviewing 99 people living and working in the UAE.

“I would wake up to start cooking, then cleaning, washing clothes, and then cooking again. No rest, there was just no rest... Because she kept yelling, I cried and asked to go back to the agency, but madam said ‘I already bought you…’” a 23-year-old Indonesian domestic worker in Dubai told the NGO.

The problems arise through the UAE’s visa sponsorship system, known as ‘kafala’, which establishes a relationship between migrant workers and their visa sponsor, and which also means that migrant workers cannot switch employers.

The ITUC’s General Secretary, Sharan Burrow, called it “modern day slavery.”

“You are owned by an employer; you have no right of movement from job to job; there’s no serious compliance [with] the fundamental ILO articles of workers’ rights; and you’re not free to leave when the job becomes unbearable or the living conditions are such that you can no longer live with dignity. This must end,” Burrow said.

In other cases, construction workers, who already live in deplorable conditions while working on luxury apartment complexes, are left penniless after paying illegal and unreasonably high recruitment fees, and deported for complaining or going on strike.