Unions offer support to labourers

International groups say they will provide assistance to construction workers to set up unions in the UAE

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By  Conrad Egbert & Tim Wood Published  April 15, 2006

International trade union groups have offered to organise construction workers in the UAE following the move by the government to allow the formation of unions. Last week Labour Minister Ali bin Abdullah Al Ka’abi, said that union representation would be allowed in the country by the end of the year. The decision follows a strike by more than 2,500 construction labourers working on the Burj Development site last month, which attracted worldwide media attention. The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) welcomed the announcement and said that the international trade union movement was ready to offer its assistance. “The UAE should ratify and implement these fundamental conventions, and work with the International Labour Organisation to ensure that any restrictions on the fundamental rights of all working men and women in the Emirates are removed,” said ICFTU general secretary, Guy Ryder. He added: “The international trade union movement is ready and willing to provide practical assistance to help these workers, many of whom suffer severe ill-treatment through dangerous working conditions, low wages and extremely long working hours.” Allan Ritchie, general secretary of UCATT, whose 120,000 members ensure it is the largest construction union in the UK, said the setting up of a union in Dubai was “common sense”. “There has to be a working relationship between the government, the workforce and the contractors, and a trade union is the most obvious way to achieve this,” he said. “When I was in Dubai with UCATT last year, I saw first- hand a number of problems, and even then I thought there was something of a powder keg situation going on there.” New York-based Human Rights Watch has asked the governments of the US, the EU and Australia, which are currently negotiating free trade agreements with the UAE, to abandon the talks unless the UAE improves its labour practices and legal standards. “One of the world’s largest construction booms is feeding off workers in Dubai, but they’re treated as less than human,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s no surprise that some workers have started rioting in protest. What is surprising is that the government of the UAE is doing nothing to solve the problem,” she added.

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