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A Rare Workers’ Protest in Dubai Dispels Delusion of Opulent Utopia

Construction workers demonstrate against pay cuts and bad working conditions.

Image via the Dubai Media Office's Twitter profile.

The Dubai Media Office tweeted Monday that Dubai police had “resolved” the “issue” of construction workers who had “gathered” to “demand” “bonuses” in front of Dubai Mall. All of these words, arranged as they were, might suggest that the Dubai police had benevolently dispersed a throng of pampered workers causing traffic congestion.


In actuality, the Dubai police had deployed officers in riot gear to neutralize a protest by unarmed constructions workers angry at pay cuts and worsening working conditions. According to the workers, their employer, Emaar Properties, had abolished overtime pay. The mostly South Asian workers—hailing from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and elsewhere—alleged that the company was also feeding them expired food. They were employed to work on a residential property called Fountain Views in Downtown Dubai.

"We don't have overtime work any more so we're striking," said one Pakistani worker to Reuters. "I'm not afraid to ask for my rights."

In a country where any non-government political gatherings are expressly forbidden, this protest was particularly siginificant—especially as it brings to the forefront the desolate reality of foreign workers in the Gulf States. Although Dubai maintains its image as an extravagant playground for rich nationals and wealthy Western ex-pats looking to fulfull an Orientalist fantasy, it does so while marginalizing and subjugating the nation’s most vulnerable members. Foreign workers in Dubai, and all over the Gulf, are subject to repressive working conditions.

While Emaar Properties and the Dubai police would like for the world to believe these workers were protesting the loss of unnecessary perks, the overtime pay the workers were receiving was actually compensation for extremely low base pay. The company, however, says the issue has been “resolved”, although it’s not totally clear how.