Petition: NYU must respect workers’ rights at the NYU Abu Dhabi campus

On March 3, 2015, various student and worker groups at NYU launched a petition demanding that NYU redress past wrongs and secure present and future labor rights in Abu Dhabi.

Various members of the Coalition for Fair Labor, along with several student and worker groups at NYU, demand that NYU:

1) Justly compensate the NYUAD construction workers who were jailed and deported

2) Amend NYU’s Statement of Labor Values to recognize the rights of workers on all campuses, particularly freedom of association, the right to strike, and the right to organize and collectively bargain. We demand that NYU work with organizations in the region to implement these changes and ensure meaningful worker representation moving forward.

3) Publicly disclose the Code of Conduct that operationalizes labor standards at NYUAD

4) Implement NYU’s Statement of Labor Values by appointing an independent monitor of labor compliance

5) Initiate cross-campus faculty and student-led research on the current system of migrant labor employed at NYUAD



Students & faculty: NYU must respect workers’ rights in Abu Dhabi

Following the release of a Human Rights Watch report last week that documented, for the third time, rights’ violations of workers employed on the NYUAD project on Saadiyat Island, eleven NYU student, faculty and worker groups released a letter today, February 17, demanding that NYU respect workers’ rights in Abu Dhabi and at all global sites.

We demand that NYU:

1) Justly compensate NYUAD construction workers who were jailed and deported
2) Secure workers’ freedom of association, right to organize, right to strike and collectively bargain by amending the Statement of Labor Values
3) Disclose the confidential Code of Conduct
4) Implement the Statement of Labor Values by appointing independent labor compliance monitors

We expect a public response from the Office of the President by March 1, 2015.
For media contacts, please see the press release.

Human Rights Watch: Rights violations of NYU workers in Abu Dhabi

In response to a new Human Rights Watch report released yesterday, documenting the rights violations of workers employed on the NYUAD project for the third time, the Coalition for Fair Labor released a statement to President Sexton and Vice Chancellor Bloom reiterating our past demands for NYU to:

1) develop cross-campus research initiatives aimed at reform of the kafala system of sponsorship-based employment that heavily entraps workers in the region
2) assure transparency throughout the selection process and appointment of NYUAD’s new independent monitor, as well as the efficacy of the new monitor’s methodologies
3) amend its Statement of Labor Values to allow for the right to organize, strike and bargain collectively
4) petition to invite the International Labor Organization to negotiate significant reforms to the sponsorship system

In their 82-page report, “Migrant Workers’ Rights on Saadiyat Island in the United Arab Emirates: 2015 Progress Report,” HRW documented the following: the confiscation of workers’ passports, the failure to reimburse workers for recruitment fees, and the ill-treatment and summary deportation of more than 200 workers who went on strike in October 2013 to protest pay discrepancies.

Labor in Abu Dhabi 101: A Cross-Campus Teach-In

On December 6, 2014, the Coalition for Fair Labor hosted the first cross-campus teach-in on labor conditions in the United Arab Emirates. Speakers included:

Kristina Bogos, Coalition for Fair Labor
Jess Champagne, Workers Rights Consortium
Arang Keshavarzian, Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies, NYU
Martin Klimke, History, NYU Abu Dhabi
Erum Raza, Compliance and Risk Management, NYU Abu Dhabi
Kimberly Rodriguez, ADvocacy, NYU Abu Dhabi
Andrew Ross, SCA/Coalition for Fair Labor, NYU
Justin Stearns, Arab Crossroads, NYU Abu Dhabi

For topics discussed, please see our notes from the teach-in.

We thank our co-sponsors for their support: American Association of University Professors (AAUP); Asian/Pacific/American Institute at NYU; Center for Media, Culture and History at NYU; Department of History, NYU; Department of Anthropology, NYU; Department of English, NYU; Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies, NYU; South Asia at NYU

Additional steps need to be taken at NYUAD

After the release of our petition in early May asking NYU and NYU Abu Dhabi to be proactive about human rights and fair labor standards on Saadiyat Island, the Coalition for Fair Labor received the following response from the NYU administration:

Sexton Bloom reply

The Coalition for Fair Labor is urging NYU to take further steps to resolve our community’s concerns for the rights and conditions of migrant workers in the UAE, with specific regard to the university’s independent monitoring arrangements and development of cross-campus research initiatives. Our response:

CFL Response June 11


Gulf Labor documents violations of NYUAD labor standards

A new report from Gulf Labor, a coalition of artists working to protect the rights of migrant workers on Saadiyat Island, reveals violations of workers’ rights within the NYU Abu Dhabi project.

During a trip to labor camps in the UAE between Mar. 14 and Mar. 21, Gulf Labor interviewed groups of workers building NYUAD’s new campus on Saadiyat Island and documented the following violations of NYU’s Statement of Labor Values and UAE labor law:

Gulf Labor: No worker was in possession of his passport.
NYU Statement of Labor Values: Employees will retain all of their own personal documents, including passports and drivers’ licenses.

GL: Overtime (amounting to 11- or 12-hour work days, and sometimes longer) was described as mandatory, not voluntary.
NYU: Employees will work no more than eight hours a day, five days a week, except for those working in construction-related activities, who will work no more than eight hours a day, six days a week. Overtime will only be worked voluntarily, and will be compensated at premium rates.

GL: Sub-contractors (such as Robodh and Al Reyami) had failed to pay wages in a timely fashion, and were in arrears by several months. 
NYU: Employees shall receive their full wages or basic salary via electronic bank transfers and on a pre-agreed upon schedule.

GL: Employers had not paid recruitment fees.
NYU: Employers will fully cover or reimburse employees for fees associated with the recruitment process, including those relating to visas, medical examinations, and the use of recruitment agencies, without deductions being imposed on their remuneration.

GL: Many of the employees engaged in work stoppages (a four-hour strike by Al Reyami workers in June, and a larger two-day strike in August by BK Gulf workers housed in Yas Island and Jebel Ali) were terminated and deported without any due process.
NYU: No worker shall be subject to harassment, intimidation, or retaliation in their efforts to resolve work disputes.

GL: Some workers did not have a written contract regarding hours and wages.
Article 36 of UAE labor law: The employment contract shall in particular specify the date of its conclusion, the date on which work begins, nature and place of work, duration of the contract in the case of contract with limited period and the amount of the remuneration.

Gulf Labor also found the following:

1. While food allowances had been slightly increased in response to the August strike, subcontractors’ additional promises of salary increases had not been kept.
2. Some workers were housed in substandard camps, and some had endured long work commutes (up to three hours).
3. In Mussafah, an area of Abu Dhabi which hosts many labor camps, employees who had worked on NYU’s Saadiyat campus cited figures as low as 572 AED a month.
4. Every worker we met in the SAV and at off-island sites had paid recruitment fees to come to the UAE. Bangladeshi workers on the NYUAD sites reported paying between 1 lakh 20 thousand, and 3 lakhs in fees (1545 USD to 3864 USD).
5. According to an off-island interview with two Nepalese workers who had worked on NYUAD, three or four out of 10 workers lose their land as they are unable to pay the debt back in time.

NYU released a set of labor values in February of 2010 after the Coalition for Fair Labor urged NYU to adopt fair labor practices. In October of 2010, NYUAD and Tamkeen, a government entity in Abu Dhabi, appointed the firm Mott MacDonald as the independent auditor for the NYUAD construction project. However, Mott MacDonald has ties to Saadiyat Island. In 2006, the firm was appointed to oversee the development of Saadiyat Island’s entire power and water distribution systems. This relationship is a clear conflict of interest and is resulting in compliance reports from NYU that are not comprehensive. NYU’s very own compliance reports from 2011, 2012 and 2013, the latter released two days ago, have consistently claimed that the NYUAD project is taking workers’ rights seriously. While violations are being documented from organizations like Human Rights Watch and Gulf Labor, NYU’s name is being tarnished for letting instances of exploitation go unnoticed.