Foreign Workers and the Dubai Building Boom

Behind every great building boom lies an army of unsung heroes doing the toughest jobs

Migrant workers on a building construction site in Dubai. No country is as dependent on migrants as the United Arab Emirates, where foreigners make up about 85 percent of the population and 99 percent of the private work force. (Pics)

 Foreign Workers and the Dubai Building Boom

A Ministry of Labor official visited a work site. After several years of unprecedented labor unrest, the government has pledged to improve conditions for construction workers.

Foreign Workers and the Dubai Building Boom

Workers are bused to work sites and live in labor camps.

 Foreign Workers and the Dubai Building Boom

At the beginning and end of long days, sometimes involving 12 to 18 hours of work, they ride the bus.

Foreign Workers and the Dubai Building Boom

They rise before dawn, work six days a week and return to the camps, where they have time to do little but eat or sleep. They are under close watch, with no right to unionize and no chance at citizenship.

 Foreign Workers and the Dubai Building Boom

A labor camp where workers live in Dubai. About two-thirds of the foreigners are South Asians, including most of the 1.2 million construction workers.

 Foreign Workers and the Dubai Building Boom

Dinner is prepared at a migrant camp in Abu Dhabi. The United Arab Emirates needs the foreign laborers but fears their numbers.

 Foreign Workers and the Dubai Building Boom

Workers buy fruit and vegetables at a work camp. Migrants in the U.A.E. make local citizens a minority in their own country and sustain one of the world’s great building booms.

 Foreign Workers and the Dubai Building Boom

A migrant worker gets a haircut at a labor camp in Dubai. Several years of protests, mostly over unpaid wages, peaked in March 2006, when hundreds of workers went on a rampage near the unfinished Burj Dubai, which is being built as the world’s tallest building.

 Foreign Workers and the Dubai Building Boom

Checking for mail at a labor camp. Regulators have enforced midday sun breaks, improved health benefits, upgraded living conditions and cracked down on employers brazen enough to stop paying workers at all.

 Foreign Workers and the Dubai Building Boom

Visitors to the city are largely oblivious to the presence of the workers, who build the hotels and shopping centers

 Foreign Workers and the Dubai Building Boom

Sami Yullah, a 24-year-old pipe fitter from Pakistan, arrived in the U.A.E. four years ago. Like many workers, he paid nearly a year’s salary in illegal recruiter’s fees, despite laws here that require employers to bear all the hiring costs. In exchange, he was promised a job building sewer systems at a monthly salary of about $225, nearly twice what he earned at home.

 Foreign Workers and the Dubai Building Boom

A mosque at a labor camp in Dubai.

Foreign Workers and the Dubai Building Boom

A labor camp where workers live in Dubai. Workers remain tied to specific employers and cannot, without permission, change jobs.

Via NY Times

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