Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 July 2019

Dubai construction workers win court case over unpaid wages

Indian, Pakistani and Bangladesh labourers have gone more than a year without salaries

Church volunteers hand out food and provisions to labourers from a construction company who have not been paid for more than a year.
Church volunteers hand out food and provisions to labourers from a construction company who have not been paid for more than a year.

A Dubai construction company has been ordered to hand over salaries to workers who are owed tens of thousands of dirhams in unpaid wages.

Actco General Contracting lost labour cases involving more than 30 individual workers in Dubai Courts.

They are among 700 workers from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh who downed tools in protest last year. They are allegedly owed between six and 18 months of wages.

The judgments are likely to lead to more claims against the Garhoud-based company.

“Actco is an old company so that is the complication because the end of service benefits some people are seeking could run into Dh50,000 [per person],” said Vipul, the Indian Consul General in Dubai.

“We have taken it up with Mohre (Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation), the labour court and other agencies and they have been very helpful.”

Arokiaswany Joseph Karre, an administration officer, won a ruling in April when the court ordered the company to pay Dh42,800 and Dh2,000 air fare home to India.

He was in court again on Tuesday to chase up a court order that stated the firm must pay him eight-months' wages.

Until then he has nothing and could not even afford the court's Dh52 admin fee.

“My colleagues have also got a verdict in their favour and we are waiting for the money,” the 53-year-old, who worked for the company for three years, told The National.

I worry daily because my wife, daughter and sister’s family depend on me. I am desperate to make a new beginning anywhere, it could be a mall or an office

Arokiaswany Joseph Karre

“I’m tense every day until I get another job. I worry daily because my wife, daughter and sister’s family depend on me. I am desperate to make a new beginning anywhere, it could be a mall or an office.”

The National reached the company's lawyer who asked not to be named and declined to comment.

Workers said about a dozen of their colleagues have filed for gratuity and back payments in the labour court.

The men have been stranded in company-owned accommodation in Sonapur, Dubai Investment Park, Ras Al Khaimah and Abu Dhabi and are relying on handouts from volunteer groups and their home embassies.

Conditions at the camps in Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah have been described by workers and consulate officials as unsanitary, with air-conditioning and electricity supply shut down several times.

A labour ministry official said some employees accepted the minimum Dh3,000 security deposit, which every company must keep for each employee, plus air fare, and went home.

The National has learnt that over the past two months around 400 workers have accepted the basic settlements and returned home, while another 60 workers would be headed home over the next week.

But many more are pursuing their wages in full, buoyed by their colleagues' wins.

An accountant who gave his name as Raja is among those who has filed a labour court case against Actco. He said he hasn't received a salary for 18 months.

“I’m desperately looking for a job because my visa is still valid,” said the 46-year-old, who has worked for the company for 15 years.

The estimated 700 workers are reliant on handouts from volunteers working with the Indian consulate.
The 700 workers are reliant on handouts from church volunteers and embassy officials

“We have qualified people with a lot of experience and we just need somebody to give us a chance.”

Once earning a monthly wage of Dh6,600, Raja now survives on Dh5 a day given to him by friends.

“I’m worried about the future of my children because I’m living on money given by other people,” he said.

“Many workers took Dh3,000 and left because they had no choice but I have worked for so many years. There must be some justice.”

Others said they survived because of provisions supplied by voluntary workers.

A worker who gave his name as Gaurav, has a case hearing later this month for 19 months' unpaid wages.

Many men are broken because they had not received their salary for 9 to 12 months. A person who has put in the prime years of his life does not want to leave taking Dh3,000

Saulat Saqib, Pakistani Consulate

“We are asking to be paid for work we have done honestly,” said the 53-year-old who earned Dh5,850 and worked in the company’s administration department for 23 years.

“My friends and relatives help out with my son and wife in Mumbai. Here we survive because of charity trusts who make sure we have food and toothpaste. But my situation is very bad because my family depends on me and I need a job to support them.”

Mr Vipul, the Indian consul, said the consulate is working closely with UAE labour officials to resolve the case.

“Some of the workers are too terrified to give their names because they want their cases resolved,” he said.

"The owners don’t engage so it’s difficult for us to get access and up-to-date information but we are working with the local authorities.”

Saulat Saqib, a counsellor with the Pakistani consulate in Dubai, said workers could try to find employment while they waited.

“Many men are broken because they had not received their salary for 9 to 12 months,” she said.

“A person who has put in the prime years of his life does not want to leave taking Dh3,000 so one solution is for them to work elsewhere with court permission.”

Updated: July 11, 2019 06:31 PM

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