DUBAI // Nearly 200 building workers gathered in front of the Ministry of Labour yesterday demanding immediate payment of their wages, which they said had been withheld by their employer. Workers from India, Bangladesh, the Philippines and Vietnam marched to the labour headquarters in Al Qusais for what appeared to be a sit-in protest.
"We stopped work two months ago as we had not been paid. The company kept promising us that they would pay soon, but nothing has happened so far," said Bilal, a worker who said the South Korean construction firm owed him Dh6,600 (US$1,800) in back wages. "We sit in the camp all day. The company provides us food at the camp every day, but no salaries." He said some workers had previously approached the labour office in smaller groups, but without success.
"We were all frustrated and decided that we would go together today," he said. The negotiations continued for hours before some of the workers were convinced labour officials were committed to helping them and dispersed. However, at least 100 Vietnamese workers refused to leave unless they were paid immediately and attempted to block the main gate of the building. It was the second report of unpaid wages in a week. Nearly 1,400 workers from the Atlantic Emirates Group have been left to fend for themselves without salaries or food.
The workers involved in yesterday's protest, employed on various projects across Dubai, were each owed between Dh4,000 and Dh5,000, said Eisa al Zarouni, the head of the ministry's labour inspection department. He would not confirm how long the workers had gone without pay. A ministry investigation had found that the construction firm had financial difficulties. "It's a foreign company and the owner is not in the country, but the members of the management who are still present here told us that the company is facing a financial crisis," Mr al Zarouni said.
"The workers who came to the ministry were demanding payments of their delayed salaries and to speed up their cancellation procedures, which would allow them to be repatriated," he said. The ministry had referred the South Korean construction firm to court following a complaint lodged by the workers. The court ordered the liquidation of the company's Dh2.2 million bank warranty. "In co-operation with the court, we decided to give the priority in the bank warranty money to blue-collar workers, as the amount would cover the majority of their dues," Mr al Zarouni said. "The senior employees of the company will receive their money after the court will liquidate the company's assets."
While the liquidation had already begun, the workers wanted it to proceed more quickly, he said. The ministry is expected to finalise the payments and to arrange for the workers' departure by the end of next week. It has also offered the workers the chance to switch their sponsorship to another employer without having the new company pay any transfer charges. @Email:email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org