Earlier this year, we wrote about the 31-year-old construction worker who died on site at the still-in-progress NYU Abu Dhabi campus, crushed by an improperly installed pillar. This incident ignited controversy about the safety and quality of working conditions on Saadiyat Island, where the permanent NYU campus is being built.
On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch announced that work conditions have improved on the island, where golf courses, resorts, restaurants, and future branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums are currently being built. However, work abuses continue to plague migrant workers on the island and significant improvements can still be made, reports the organization.
Human Rights Watch previously submitted a report in May 2009 which described the extreme exploitation of South Asian migrant workers in Abu Dhabi. They released an updated report titled “The Island of Happiness Revisited,” which addressed the working conditions of migrant workers on Saadiyat Island. The report declared that many of the workers’ previous grievances have been addressed and huge steps have been made for them, especially in guaranteeing wages, work breaks, vacation days, and medical insurance.
However, although developers have taken measures to enhance working conditions on site, dangerous and unethical treatment of laborers still continues. They have complained about unfair recruitment fees required to obtain jobs, misleading or absence of information about their jobs, inferior contracts, illegal salary deductions, and overcrowding in housing. And few migrant workers manage to hold on to their passports once they enter the country.
In 2009, after the release of the first Human Rights Watch report, many of the companies building sites on Saadiyat Island began changing their business practices to ensure that workers were not abused and exploited. PricewaterhouseCoopers was hired to supervise working conditions for the migrant workers constructing the branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim.
After that, NYU released a Statement of Labour Values, describing the ways in which the university would work to stop unethical labor practices. The statement guaranteed fair wages and benefits, at least one day off per seven day work period, a 48-hour maximum work week, and a safe working environment.
Now with these recent updates, Human Rights Watch is once again asking companies to prioritize the rights and safety of their workers. If abuses continue, the pressure will surely escalate, and could develop into even more complicated problems for the institutions constructing new sites on Saadiyat Island, NYU included.