x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Striking Arabtec workers in UAE 'helped to return home'

Around 463 men from Bangladesh, Pakistan and India opted to quit their jobs with Arabtec and return home.

Workers protesting near the Arabtec labour camp in Jebel Ali Industrial area 1 in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National
Workers protesting near the Arabtec labour camp in Jebel Ali Industrial area 1 in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National

DUBAI// More than 460 construction workers involved in a strike last week are being sent back to their home countries after quitting their jobs.

The Arabtec staff, who earn between Dh650 and Dh1,200 a month, downed tools and refused to leave their accommodations for four days after asking that their Dh350 food allowance be paid in cash instead of daily meals.

When their demands were not met, the men opted to leave the UAE instead of returning to their work sites. An Arabtec statement last week said the strike had no impact on work being carried out at any of its developments.

Dubai Police said the men from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan were not being deported but had opted to return home voluntarily.

"The visas of about 463 workers are being cancelled," said Capt Reyadh Al Shafi, a representative of Dubai Police's Human Rights Department and member of the Permanent Committee for Labour Affairs in Dubai.

"We haven't forced anyone to go back. They said they didn't want to work and we are helping them return. The company has given their salary and paid for their tickets.

"More than half have already gone back. We can't send all of them in one plane as it is difficult to get tickets. We will send everybody by the end of this week."

Officials at the labour and immigration departments will decide if the men will be allowed to return to work in the UAE.

Arabtec said last week the striking workers would be held accountable.

The company said: "Working closely with the Ministry of Labour, the Abu Dhabi and Dubai Police and other authorities, the stoppage was resolved amicably. This unwarranted stoppage has been instigated by a minority group who will be held accountable for their actions."

Most of the striking men were bused back to work sites from their labour accommodations in Dubai last Monday. However, a small group remained in their labour camps until Tuesday.

Workers said an Indian foreman had been beaten up by a group of labourers at a villa project in Al Barsha.

A police spokesman said yesterday no one had been charged as the foreman, who suffered minor injuries, did not press charges.

Capt Al Shafi said it was illegal for workers to instigate a strike.

"When a worker finishes his contract, he can check with the company if they will increase his salary. This is the law of the UAE and it does not allow to have a leader or make a strike."

He said officials from the Bangladesh consulate had met with the workers and advised them against the strike.

The Bangladesh embassy in Abu Dhabi said it did not know how many of its citizens were returning home.

"We have been told that some have been taken into custody and are being questioned," said Mohammed Imran, the Bangladeshi ambassador.

About 15 of the men who are going home are Indian nationals. It is not known how many Pakistani workers are among the returning Arabtec staff.

pkannan@thenational.ae