AMB-Hertel is an Emirati subsidiary of the French multinational Altrad. According to Le Monde, the group has 15,000 employees in the Gulf, and it’s founder, Mohed Altrad, is a candidate for mayor of Montpellier.
The pandemic has further worsened the plight of many workers, who are now unable to support their families back home or pay off recruitment debts. One worker who “has not received a single full salary since arriving in Abu Dhabi in late February” told Le Monde “I paid 25,000 rupees (over USD300) to an agent in India, my parents and three brothers depend on me for a living. They have a lot of problems.”
It is not just Altrad’s UAE operations that are in trouble; a worker in Qatar, who works for the subsidiary Altrad Cape, told the newspaper, “I haven't received any pay for three months. In the contract termination letter I received, I am only offered one month's salary.”
Some of the protesting workers were laid off while still owed several months' pay. The UAE issued a regulation in March permitting companies to put workers on unpaid leave, reduce salaries or terminate them, in response to the Covid-19 crisis. Migrant-Rights.org earlier raised concerns that this might lead to unilateral changes in contracts, as workers under the Kafala system essentially lack any power to negotiate.
Migrant rights activist Andy Hall told Le Monde that "Altrad likes to think that as long as unpaid leave is co-signed by workers, then everything is legal. Like many other multinationals in the Gulf, the company benefits from the total absence of trade unions in the region [...] In France, such practices would not be accepted. But in the Gulf, with uninformed workers, among the most vulnerable in the world, everything passes. "
The company did not respond to inquiries from the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre.