Teachers, Jurists, Domestic workers and Construction Workers in the Emirates Banned from Forming Trade Unions

A new report from the International Trade Union Confederation on workers’ rights in the United Arab Emirates shows how workers are denied the right to join a union and bargain collectively as well as widespread practices of forced labour.

The report, due to be delivered to the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) review of the Emirates trade policies on 27th March, found that UAE is in violation of all core labour standards.

Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, said no trade unions are able to operate freely and fairly in the Emirates.

“As well as denying workers their rights, the government has used its power to restrict any unwanted actions taken by professional associations, which have sprung up in an attempt to circumvent the restrictive labour laws,” said Sharan Burrow.

“Six months ago, the Jurists Association and Teachers Association Boards were dismissed by the Labour Minister and replaced with state appointees,” said Sharan Burrow.

In the Emirates million dollar Export Processing Zones all types of worker organisations are prohibited and collective bargaining never takes place.

“Foreign workers, who make up 70% of the population, take the brunt of abuses of trade union rights, with workers discriminated against by local labour laws while working under a visa sponsorship system that makes them vulnerable to forced labour and exploitation,” said Sharan Burrow.

Domestic and construction workers come from South Asian countries including Nepal, India and Bangladesh. They work long hours under harsh conditions often suffering physical, psychological and sexual abuses.

In January 2011, 70 Bangladeshi construction workers were arrested and deported accused of instigating a strike of 3000 workers at the Arabtec construction company. Domestic services are outside the law, and any benefits for workers depend on the good will of employers.

“The UAE is trying to re-create itself and Dubai as the cultural centre of the Gulf with an Opera House and a Modern Art museum, all built on the back of forced labour and exploited workers. The abuses of workers’ rights will cast a long shadow over the future development of this Gulf State unless the authorities give people the freedoms they are entitled to under international law,” said Sharan Burrow.

The WTO General Council Review of Trade Policies in UAE will take place in Geneva 27 and 29 March. The WTO has made commitments to observe internationally core labour standards.

Read the full ITUC report to the WTO Trade Policy Review

In 2011 the ITUC documented abuses of workers’ rights in Dubai in the special investigative report “The Hidden Faces of the Gulf Miracle”. Read the report and watch the video