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.