Labour unrest hampers Burj Dubai work

DUBAI - Construction on a building expected to be the world’s tallest was interrupted on Wednesday after Asian workers angered by low salaries and mistreatment rioted, smashing cars and offices and causing what a government official said almost US$1 million in damage.

By (AP)

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Published: Wed 22 Mar 2006, 8:06 PM

Last updated: Wed 26 Apr 2023, 4:45 PM

The stoppage triggered a sympathy strike at Dubai International Airport also Wednesday, when thousands of labourers building a massive new terminal also laid down their tools, airport and labour officials said.

Some 2,500 workers on the emerging Burj Dubai tower and surrounding housing developments chased and beat security officers Tuesday night, broke into temporary offices and smashed computers and files, and destroyed about two dozen cars and construction machines, witnesses said.

The initial riot was caused by workers angered because buses to their residential camp were delayed after their shifts, witnesses at the site said.

An Interior Ministry official who investigates labour issues, Lt. Col. Rashid Bakhit Al Jumairi, said the rioters caused almost US$1 million in damage.

The workers, employed by Dubai-based construction firm Al Naboodah Laing O’Rourke, returned to the vast site on Wednesday but refused to work.

Crowds of blue-garbed workers milled in the shadow of the gray concrete tower, now 36 stories tall, while leaders negotiated with officials from the company and the Ministry of Labour.

“Everyone is angry here. No one will work,” said Khalid Farouk, 39, a labourer with Al Naboodah. Other workers said their leaders were asking for pay raises: skilled carpenters on the site earned just US$7.60 per day, with labourers getting just US$4 per day.

A reporter inquiring about the riots was ordered to leave the site by an Al Naboodah manager who refused to give his name. The firm’s business development manager, Jonathan Eveleigh, declined to comment when reached by telephone.

Al Jumairi said the labourers were also asking Al Naboodah, one of the Emirates’ biggest construction conglomerates, for overtime pay, better medical care and humane treatment by foremen.

“They are asking for small things,” said Al Jumairi, the labour investigator. “I promised them I would sit with them until everything is settled.”

Al Jumairi later said he was being diverted to negotiate with idled labourers at the airport.

Labour stoppages in Gulf countries have recently become common, with some two dozen strikes last year in the United Arab Emirates alone. Most have centered on unpaid salaries and triggered a Labour Ministry crackdown on contract-breaching companies.

The strikes and riots by Al Naboodah workers marred what otherwise appeared to be smooth construction of the Burj Dubai, which is to be a spire-shaped, stainless-steel-skinned tower expected to soar far beyond 100 stories.

Emaar, the tower’s Dubai-based developer, is keeping the final height a secret until the $900 million Burj is complete by 2008.

A section of the tower is to host a 172-room luxury hotel operated by Italian fashion designer Giorgio Armani.

The protesting workers are among almost a million migrants from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China and elsewhere who have poured into Dubai to provide the low-wage muscle behind one of the world’s great building booms.

In five decades, Dubai has mushroomed from a primitive town of 20,000 to a gridlocked metropolis of 1.5 million.

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