ILO investigation into Saadiyat Island labour abuses, United Arab Emirates

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29 April 2015

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

"Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers", 29 April 2015

It’s not a labour camp. No such words would soil the lips of the men from the Abu Dhabi Tourism Development and Investment Company. No, it’s the “Saadiyat Accommodation Village”. For here, 7,500 men from the poorest countries of southern Asia – from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Philippines – live and sleep in apparently Utopian comfort when they are not labouring under the Gulf sun on the cultural dream projects of Abu Dhabi’s rulers: the Louvre Museum and the Guggenheim, and the vast emporium built to hold the art treasures of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan at the Zayed National Museum... I contacted a Pakistani driver who knew his way around the three massive labour camps in Dubai, at Senaful, al-Quoz and Jebel Ali. Along the highways out of the city, there are miles of freshly planted trees – it must cost tens of thousands of dollars to water them in the sand – and they are a screen, to prevent visitors or Emirati citizens themselves from having to cast their eyes on the builders of this empire. We stopped the car in a bus park and walked through the trees, and there before us lay concrete camps that stretched into the white hazed horizon. These are no Saadiyat islands. They are three or four-storey concrete blocks that look more like penitentiaries than villages, a bleak and grassless wasteland in which tens of thousands of workers sleep together, sometimes 14 to a room...

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7 April 2015

NYU student sit-in protests treatment of Abu Dhabi campus workers

Author: The Guardian

"NYU student sit-in protests treatment of Abu Dhabi campus workers", 07 April 2015

About 30 students staged a sit-in at New York University on Monday to protest against mistreatment of workers who built the university’s Abu Dhabi campus in the United Arab Emirates. The mistreatment of the workers has been documented by the New York Timesand the Guardian, and in three progress reports from Human Rights Watch, one of which was published earlier this year. Workers were living more than a dozen to a room, and working 11-hour days,according to the reports. The workers said their wages were delayed and were lower than promised. The Human Rights Watch report found that some employers were “withholding workers’ wages and benefits, failing to reimburse them for recruiting fees, confiscating worker’s passports, and housing them in substandard accommodations.” The report went on to say that some contractors informed the United Arab Emirates of a workers’ strike, which led to the deportation of hundreds of workers...

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5 April 2015

Migrants building UAE cultural hub 'working in prison conditions'

Author: The Guardian

"Migrants building UAE cultural hub 'working in prison conditions'", 4 April 2015

Trade unions and artists have condemned the conditions faced by migrant workers building a £17bn cultural hub in the United Arab Emirates, including new branches of the Louvre and the Guggenheim museums, as akin to an open prison. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and Gulf Labor, a coalition of international artists, said the several thousand workers in the official labour camp on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi were subject to segregation, a 10pm curfew and monitoring by security guards, and could only enter or leave on authorised buses. Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the ITUC, said: “People are treated like battery hens. They’re locked in. There are guards. They leave at 5.30-6am, they go home at 6-7pm in the evening, or later if they are forced to work overtime, often unpaid.”... The most recent audit of Saadiyat Island by PricewaterhouseCoopers, which was appointed by TDIC to monitor workers’ welfare, found that the company had not consistently enforced its employment practices policy, which is supposed to ensure the fair treatment of labourers. According to the audit, TDIC imposed financial penalties against only three of the six contractors who were found to be in breach of the policy last year. However, the audit noted that TDIC has pledged to introduce a fairer employment code this year and has already made some improvements to facilities at the SAV, including door-to-door laundry services and new kitchens.

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10 February 2015

UAE: Abuses at NYU, Louvre, Guggenheim Project

Author: Human Rights Watch

Serious concerns about workers’ rights have not been resolved for a high-profile project in Abu Dhabi that will host branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums and a campus of New York University (NYU), Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. These institutions should make their continued engagement with the Saadiyat Island project contingent on the developers’ commitment to more serious enforcement of worker protections and the compensation of workers who suffered abuses, including those arbitrarily deported after they went on strike...Workers from BK Gulf, a contractor at the NYU site, and Arabtec, a contractor at the Louvre site, told Human Rights Watch that the UAE authorities arbitrarily detained and deported several hundred workers in separate and unrelated strikes in May and October 2013.

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4 December 2014

UN investigates Guggenheim Abu Dhabi parent company for labor abuses

Author: Mostafa Heddaya, Hyper Allergic

"UN Investigates Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Parent Company for Labor Abuses", 1 December 2014

A United Nations body is investigating the alleged abuse of laborers on Saadiyat Island in the United Arab Emirates, site of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and Louvre Abu Dhabi projects, among other museum and cultural developments, the Guardian reported. The decision, made by the UN’s International Labor Organization (ILO), follows allegations of “exploitative practices that may amount to forced labour” presented by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) earlier this year...

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1 December 2014

UN investigates claims of UAE abuse of migrant workers

Author: Guardian

"UN investigates claims of Gulf state abuse of migrant workers", 29 Nov 2014

The United Nations is investigating the abuse of migrant workers in the United Arab Emirates, where the British Museum and other major western museums, including the Guggenheim, are involved in a multibillion-pound cultural hub.

The move, by the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO), comes after a complaint brought by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which warned that migrants doing construction and domestic work were with “alarming frequency … trapped in exploitative practices that may amount to forced labour”.

Human Rights Watch and the ITUC said the investigation meant that western institutions would no longer be able to rely on local assurances that the thousands of migrant workers in Abu Dhabi were being well treated. Many are employed on Saadiyat, the site of a £17bn ($27bn) complex of museums and luxury resorts...

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Protesters "occupy" New York's Guggenheim over Gulf labour abuses

Author: Michael Pizzi, Al-Jazeera America

"Protesters 'occupy' New York's Guggenheim over Gulf labor abuses", 01 May 2015

A live reading of Japanese conceptual artist On Kawara’s project “One Million Years" on the ground floor of the Guggenheim Museum was drowned out on Friday when dozens of activists protesting labor abuses at the Guggenheim’s Abu Dhabi construction site began to yell out workers' demands — higher wages and an end to debt bondage — as they rained down thousands of red and white flyers from the top floor...The demonstration, held on workers’ rights holiday May Day, was the latest action in a five-year campaign by activist group Gulflabor. The organization has tried to pressure the Guggenheim Foundation to end harsh conditions for migrant workers at Saadiyat Island, a luxury development and cultural center in Abu Dhabi where a $200 million branch of the international museum chain is to be built. Saadiyat, which already features a campus of New York University, and soon a branch of the Louvre, has been mired in allegations of rights abuses against the mostly South Asian workers who live at labor camps there, often crammed into tight quarters, and toil long hours in the extreme heat.Though each of the Western institutions building on Saadiyat has enacted a labor code that, in theory, grants unprecedented protection to workers in the region, rights groups say enforcement is lacking. Investigations continue to unearth widespread reports of debt bondage, with workers paying fees of up to $2,000 each to middlemen who recruit them for jobs in the Gulf. There they earn low wages, which may vary by nationality, and often have their passports confiscated in accordance with the UAE's traditional "kafala" system that binds workers to their employer...Friday’s action follows a missed deadline set by Gulflabor for the Guggenheim foundation to meet three demands: Create a debt settlement fund to compensate workers an additional $2,000, raise wages and guarantee workers the freedom to associate and organize. Gulflabor argued that the foundation could make these changes unilaterally. In a response to the Gulflabor letter published on the group’s website, however, the Guggenheim Foundation said the three recommendations were “outside the Guggenheim’s range of authority. They are matters of federal law” in the UAE...


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