Coalition for Fair Labor
July 13, 2015
On Tuesday, June 23, members of the Coalition for Fair Labor met with Al Bloom, the Vice Chancellor of NYU Abu Dhabi, regarding concrete actions the university should take to provide full redress for the workers whose rights NYU and its UAE partner Tamkeen violated during construction of the NYUAD campus. While we welcome certain steps the university is taking, we remain deeply concerned about several unresolved issues.
Labor Compliance Monitor
For many years, CFL has urged NYU to hire an independent, third-party labor compliance monitor and invite the Worker’s Rights Consortium to partake in the bidding process. We regret that our recommendation was again ignored. NYU’s decision to appoint the UK based-firm IMPACTT LTD. to replace Mott MacDonald as third-party monitor is a step in the right direction. However, IMPACTT is a for-profit, client-centered contract firm and not an independent monitor. In light of Mott MacDonald’s faulty track record, namely the firm’s conflict of interest and failure to detect violations of NYU’s Statement of Labor Values, the administration must assure the NYU community of IMPACTT’s efficacy by disclosing in full the terms of reference under which the monitor will operate. IMPACTT should consult experienced, non-governmental organizations and incorporate regional best practices into their work. To ensure free flow of information, NYU should direct IMPACTT to: (1) interview workers off-site, (2) avert any and all forms of harm to workers when an imminent risk is identified; and (3) promptly make all IMPACTT’s reports public. Lastly, the forms of self-monitoring NYUAD has implemented, in which students and faculty are assisting in worker interviews, should be phased out.
In light of the Nardello & Co. investigation, which found that approximately one-third of all construction workers (10,000 of 30,000 total) were excluded from NYU’s basic wage standards through a complex web of loopholes and subcontractor exemptions, we remain encouraged by the university’s decision to compensate these workers. We urge the administration to be transparent with students and faculty throughout the compensation period and make public the timeline and details of the compensation package. Furthermore, we urge the administration to account to the NYU community how specifically Currie & Brown, the firm appointed to administer these payments, is qualified to oversee such a process.
NYU’s continuing refusal to reimburse recruitment fees for all workers violates a baseline commitment the university made back at the outset of the construction in 2010. The Nardello investigation estimates that 25,000 construction workers paid recruitment fees between $1,000 and $3,000 USD. The university has claimed reimbursing these workers is impossible because most of them cannot document that they were recruited solely for NYUAD. Yet this was never a condition set out in the Fourteen Points, nor is it being imposed on operational workers today, who are being reimbursed if they began work at NYU within 12 months of arrival in the UAE. The administration should extend this reimbursement to all of the workers involved in construction, regardless of whether they paid these fees solely to work on the NYUAD project. We urge the administration to create a settlement fund and make lump sum payments to construction workers, none of whom have been reimbursed, to compensate for recruitment debt.
NYU continues to evade responsibility for the 250 BK Gulf workers who were summarily deported in October 2013 after they struck to protest nonpayment of wages and deplorable working conditions. The inalienable right of workers to strike has been affirmed by human rights and labor organizations worldwide. However, as NYU fully understood before initiating its Saadiyat Island project, striking is prohibited by law in the UAE. NYU should recompense these workers for the physical injuries and items stolen during their imprisonment and summary deportation,extend its compensation program to include the deported workers’ withheld wages and the non-payment of gratuity promised to them at the end of two years’ employment.
Right to Associate, Organize, Strike, and Bargain Collectively
Given that collective bargaining and labor unions are banned by law in the UAE, NYU should assure that other independent channels of worker representation and association exists for the existing operational workforce. NYU should take a leading role in ensuring that workers voicing grievances are not punished.
After years of urging NYU to develop research on the transnational labor systems employed in the Gulf, we welcome the decision to launch a research initiative in this area. We believe it should be open and inclusive of students and faculty at all NYU campuses, and that NYU should prioritize research aimed at calculating a living wage for migrant workers in Abu Dhabi — while guaranteeing that all faculty and students have the freedom to travel to NYUAD to participate in such initiatives.
Transparency & Oversight
Finally, we strongly recommend that the university be fully transparent with the NYU community throughout the aforementioned initiatives and all issues related to labor compliance at NYUAD. We ask that the Supplier Code of Conduct and the Supplementary Specifications be made public immediately. We do not believe that “commercial sensitivity” are grounds for keeping these documents confidential, especially when they stipulate the minimum wage and living protections afforded to employees of this university. Furthermore, we urge the administration to engage in regular dialogue with CFL and other concerned groups on issues as serious as violations of workers’ rights.