UAE urged to step up fight against abuse of workers

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DUBAI, Nov 12 (Reuters) The United Arab Emirates should crack down on employers abusing the rights of migrant workers who are key to the Gulf Arab state's construction boom, Human Rights Watch said in a report today.

The New York-based group welcomed labour reforms unveiled by the government on Tuesday, saying they were based on its recommendations, but added that it must also enforce existing legislation designed to protect foreign workers.

''The prime minister's decree to protect workers' rights is a welcome step in the right direction,'' Sarah Leah Whitson, West Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

''But unless the government starts to hold employers accountable for breaking the law, the UAE's colossal new skyscrapers will be known for monumental labour violations.'' OPEC producer UAE, especially the emirate of Dubai which is the Gulf's tourism and trade hub, is undergoing a huge building boom on windfalls from high oil prices.

But employers are often accused of failing to pay promised wages to their mostly Asian workers, who in the past have staged strikes and sometimes violent protests over working conditions.

Human Rights Watch said the UAE has about 500,000 migrant construction workers and accused employers of flouting laws protecting them.

''The experiences of these migrant workers present a ...

picture of wage exploitation, indebtedness to unscrupulous recruiters, and working conditions that are hazardous to the point of being deadly,'' it said.

The report, entitled ''Building Towers, Cheating Workers'', called for an independent body to probe abuses and measures against recruitment agencies that unlawfully charge workers fees for travel and contracts.

It was issued five days after UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum ordered a package of reforms to improve the conditions of foreign workers.

The reforms include establishing a labour court, limiting working hours for domestic help, regulating work contracts and creating a watchdog to monitor workers' conditions.

''We hope that the government's new promise to enforce its labour laws does not share the same fate as its broken promise to legalize trade unions,'' Whitson said.

Reuters SP RN1339

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