Labour unrest spreads

19 May 2006

The local/Belgian Bel Hasa Six Construct has become the latest major contractor to be hit by labour unrest, after 4,000-5,000 of its labourers went on strike in Dubai on 16-18 May. The labourers, mostly Indian nationals, refused to leave their camps and presented the Dubai-based contractor with a list of demands, which included a doubling in basic wages.

The strike is seen as further evidence of growing labour militancy, particularly in the Dubai construction market. Although strikes have traditionally taken place because of non-payment of wages by smaller contracting companies, this year has seen a growing number of international and leading local contractors being hit by walk-outs, and in some cases riots, over demands for higher pay and better working and living conditions (Construction, MEED Special Report, 12:5:06, page 43).

'We are extremely worried by what is happening,' says another international contractor. 'It's copy cat stuff: everyone is just waiting for their site to be hit. If it is Sixco today, it could be anyone tomorrow.'

The fears have fuelled calls among contractors for the government to intervene. 'They have to regulate the sector better, whether it be in terms of setting minimum wages and terms and conditions or controlling the recruitment agents,' says a leading local contractor. 'Unions would also help as they would allow us to have a channel for grievances to be addressed.'

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