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All is quiet at the Tameer Towers construction site on Reem Island.
All is quiet at the Tameer Towers construction site on Reem Island.

Strike continues at Reem Island site over unpaid wages

Workers on a Reem Island site have not returned to work after going on strike last week over three months of unpaid salaries.

ABU DHABI // Work is at a standstill on the Reem Island building site where more than 400 labourers went on strike last week after not being paid for nearly three months.

And at least 30 workers were dismissed last week, according to site workers and a Ministry of Labour official.

On Wednesday, the workers on the Tameer Towers project received salaries owed for the month of May but did not return to work on Thursday as the developer had expected.

The contractor on the development, Al Rajhi Projects, pledged to pay last month's wages by tomorrow.

"No one has come back to work," one labourer said this week. "They are on strike until they are paid, but 50 staff - engineers, foremen - were terminated after the strike."

A Ministry of Labour spokesman said the dismissed workers, who he said numbered about 30 and not 50, had been advised by ministry inspectors.

"Our inspectors met with the labourers on Sunday at their camp and told them they had options," the spokesman said.

The dismissed labourers can apply to work with another company in the UAE or be repatriated by Al Rajhi.

Neither the ministry officials nor the workers had heard when wages for this month would be paid.

The Tameer Towers project is a four-building development that will include residential and commercial space and a five-star hotel. The first homes are expected to be handed over by the beginning of 2013.

A representative for Al Rajhi was not available.

Last week, the project developer Tameer Holding Investment said all of its workers were paid on time and recent labourer cutbacks were normal.

"Projects see all sorts of modifications in the labour forces as the nature of the work changes," said John Zwets, the chief development officer at Tameer.

Construction on the project, which began in 2007, has faced significant delays.

The residential phase was meant to be delivered last month but the most developed part, Tower A, has only 11 of its projected 69 floors completed. The project's latest status report, in March, said 21 floors would be built by this month.

The Ministry of Labour said workers who did not receive their pay for more than 60 days were entitled to transfer to another establishment without permission from their employer, but some workers last week said they could not leave because Al Rajhi had their passports.

The ministry official also said firing workers after a strike was not illegal "depending on the workers' contract". The ministry has visited the site three times since the strike began and is closely monitoring the situation.

"We are pushing them," the spokesman said. "There are actions being taken."

Al Rajhi could be referred to the courts if it does not pay its workers.

The fine for withholding salaries is Dh10,000 for each worker. The ministry spokesman said penalties were increased for repeat violators.

jthomas@thenational.ae

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