Educating the Abu Dhabians ...

Workers at N.Y.U.’s Abu Dhabi Site Faced Harsh Conditions

May 17, 2014

Credit: Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times
Immigrants account for 85 percent of the population in the U.A.E. Migrant construction workers can work 12 hours a day, 6 or 7 days a week.

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — The strike had entered its second day when construction workers at Labor Camp 42 got word that their bosses from the BK Gulf corporation had come to negotiate. Mohammed Amir Waheed Sirkar, an electrician from Bangladesh, scrambled down the stairs to meet them. But when he got to the courtyard, he saw the truth: It wasn’t the bosses who had come. It was the police.

They pounded on doors, breaking some down, and hauled dozens of men to prison. Mr. Sirkar was taken to a Dubai police station, where officers interrogated him. After a while, new officers arrived. That’s when things got rough.

“They beat me up,” he said through an Urdu interpreter, “asking me to confess I was involved in starting the strike.” Others were slapped, kicked, or beaten with shoes, a special indignity in Arab culture.

After nine days in jail, Mr. Sirkar was deported, as were hundreds of other workers.

The forceful response was typical for the United Arab Emirates, where strikes are illegal and labor conditions grim, but most of the men who went on strike last October were working on a project that originated in America: a large new campus for New York University.

Facing criticism for venturing into a country where dissent is not tolerated and labor can resemble indentured servitude, N.Y.U. in 2009 issued a “
statement of labor values” that it said would guarantee fair treatment of workers. But interviews by The New York Times with dozens of workers who built N.Y.U.’s recently completed campus found that conditions on the project were often starkly different from the ideal. ...

Credit: Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times
Migrant workers, in their tiny apartment in Abu Dhabi, earn as little as $272 a month while building a campus for New York University.