DUBAI // Nearly 100 Vietnamese construction workers are in custody following an angry protest in front of the Ministry of Labour headquarters on Tuesday. The workers were part of a group of some 200 men from various countries who marched to the labour headquarters in Al Qusais in protest against non-payment of wages. The Vietnamese protesters remained on the scene after the others left, refusing to leave without being paid.
Le Thinh Ha, the labour attache at the Vietnamese Embassy in Abu Dhabi, said: "We know that 95 Vietnamese workers have been held in police custody right now and are kept at different locations. We are trying to co-ordinate with the police about this." The Vietnamese workers had attempted to block the entry gates of the labour ministry, resulting in their detention. Mr Ha said the men, employees of the South Korean construction company Sungwon, should receive the wages owed to them if they were deported.
"Sungwon has not paid these workers for about three to four months," he said. "The company has been affected by the financial crisis. Workers' visas were cancelled, but the company has not paid them salaries or service benefits." The workers had previously approached the embassy seeking help, and the mission had tried to solve the problem by contacting the company, Mr Ha said. They also registered a complaint with the labour office in Dubai.
"They visited them three to four times, but nothing happened," Mr Ha said. "This is why they were angry." Eisa al Zarouni, the head of the labour ministry's inspection department, said on Tuesday that each worker was owed between Dh4,000 and Dh5,000 (US$1,360). The ministry said its investigations had showed Sungwon had serious financial problems. The company could not be contacted. The ministry had referred the construction firm to court after a complaint lodged by workers, resulting in an order to liquidate the company's Dh2.2 million bank warranty. The workers are expected to be paid off using those funds.
Sungwon, which was working on several infrastructure projects, is not the only firm having trouble paying its employees. Workers from the Atlantic Emirates Group have been returning to their home countries in groups over the past few days. Many have complained they were being repatriated without receiving overdue wages. The return of about 87 workers was facilitated by the labour ministry on Tuesday, while another 29 left for India yesterday. Their repatriations are being arranged in co-ordination with the Indian consulate in Dubai. About 200 labourers were returned to various nations earlier this week.
Sunil Challil, an Atlantic Emirates employee, said: "They are sending people in small batches. Most people are relieved that it is finally happening. However, it will take a while before all return as there are still around 1,000 workers here. "The labour office is calculating the payment on the basis of hours of work done by the labourer. But many of us have been sitting idle for six months since there were no projects. Such people get nothing."
Mr Challil said that many labourers had landed in Mumbai without even enough money to reach their homes. The workers had been fending for themselves in their Sharjah labour camps without electricity or running water. Their employer abandoned them and left for India, leaving them without salaries for nearly six months. Atlantic Emirates employed more than 1,400 people, of whom around 800 were Indian.