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GulfLabor Issues Recommendations for UAE's Saadiyat Islands

On May 3, 2014

GulfLabor is a campaign launched by a coalition of influential artists boycotting the Guggenheim museum currently under construction on Abu Dhabi's Saadiyat Island, in protest of conditions facing the project's migrant workers. In October 2013, the group launched a multi-media series entitled 52 Weeks which features a piece of art, text, action or event by a different artist each week. This year, the group also published a parody website and staged a demonstration at the Guggenheim in New York.

Last month, Saadiyat's master developer TDIC invited GulfLabor members to observe the worker's accommodations and construction sites. Members also visited labor camps involved in New York University's new Saadiyat campus branch as well as other Island projects.

Issues documented at both sites included below-living wages, illegal recruitment costs, and insufficient redress methods. Workers in the off-Island camps also complained of delayed or unpaid wages, confiscation of their passports, forced overtime, and substandard housing conditions.

GulfLabor also noted the high quality of the Guggenheim's 'village' accommodations but warned against using the "isolated, high security nature of the facility as a good model to be followed in the UAE in general." The construction of cities for laborers across the Gulf has faced similar criticism for furthering the divide between migrants and citizens.

Recommendations to the Saadiyat developers and Guggenheim Foundation include:

  • Relocation fee programs for paying off recruitment debts and better monitoring of recruitment practices
  • Adoption of a Saadiyat living wage
  • Formation of worker's councils
  • Improved monitoring processes to correct abuses
  • Launching a multi-stakeholder process with the International Labor Organization (ILO) to design and implement these and other recommendations

Access the full report here.