Dubai, with its glittering new skyline of high-rise buildings and its profusion of luxury resorts and real estate, is the most globally emblematic evidence of the economic rise of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). As the UAE undergoes one of the largest construction booms in the world, at least half a million migrant construction workers are employed there. Behind the glitter and luxury, the experiences of these migrant workers present a much less attractive picture-of wage exploitation, indebtedness to unscrupulous recruiters, and working conditions that are hazardous to the point of being deadly. UAE federal labor law offers a number of protections, but for migrant construction workers these are largely unenforced.
This Human Rights Watch report addresses the abusive conditions faced by migrant construction workers in the UAE, specifically their exploitation by employers, and the UAE federal government's failure adequately to address these abuses. Through interviews with workers, government officials, and foreign embassy representatives, as well as a survey of media reports in news and trade journal publications, we highlight what appears to be the most common concern of the construction workers: extremely low wages, typically withheld by employers for a minimum of two months along with their passports, as "security" to keep the worker from quitting. Having incurred large debts to recruitment agencies in their home countries, paid to finance visa and travel costs, notwithstanding the legal prohibition against charging workers such fees, the workers feel compelled to remain in these jobs, despite the low-and in some cases, more protractedly unpaid-wages.