Welcome to the early 20th century

An interesting story via BBC today on the oil-rich United Arab Emirates (which includes Dubai, of recent US ports deal infamy). It seems the UAE has decided write a new set of labor laws that will for the first time make it legal for its mainly foreign workforce to unionize. This comes after Human Rights Watch called on the UAE to take immediate action to end abuse of migrant workers, and asked the World Bank to stop supporting projects in the country:

“During the past year, migrant workers have increasingly resorted to public protests and strikes in an attempt to improve working conditions. UAE government figures show that between May and December 2005, at least eight major strikes took place. The latest, in Dubai last week, quickly spread from construction workers who rioted at one skyscraper to others working on a new airport terminal.”

The BBC report suggests this new law is aimed more at controlling strikes than helping workers. According to the UAE Minister of Labor:

“The law will control how strikes will be conducted. It will outline rights, the do’s and don’ts.

“There will be a labour representative who will be our point of contact. It will make contact with the labourers much easier.”

That’s great. You’re adopting legal concepts that were progressive in the early 20th century. But will you actually get the employers to pay their workers on time? How about modernizing workers’ housing?

Read about the issue at Human Rights Watch here and here.

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