Migrant Workers in Dubai—Many people see Dubai as a lucrative place to work because of the city’s high salaries and low tax burden. Despite this, it’s crucial to remember that Dubai is a Muslim country within an Arab metropolis. Anyone moving to or working in Dubai needs to know precisely what they’re getting themselves into and what they’ll be expected to do.
While Dubai is considered liberal compared to other Middle Eastern cities, it adheres to traditional clothing regulations. When going out in public, women should avoid wearing anything that could be seen through, as well as anything that exposes their stomach, shoulders, or back in any way. All men’s underpants must be hidden from view, and they must cover their chests. There are few exceptions to this regulation for beaches and hotel swimming pools, but topless sunbathing is a no-no everywhere. Even if you land a job in Dubai, it’s essential to dress modestly every day, no matter what.
Furthermore, while it is acceptable to hold hands and cuddle in private (if you are married), kissing and hugging in public is not. It is permissible to dance in your own house or a licensed club, but it is considered provocative in public places like bars and clubs. Men who take images of women without their permission, engage in sexual or harassing behavior toward them or even talk to a lady without their consent are strongly discouraged. If you’re a male looking for work in Dubai, you should be aware of the cultural norms that apply to your gender.
Muslims pray five times a day, and mosques use their speaker systems to call people to prayer. To allow for daily devotions, you must switch off all music during this time. During the holy month of Ramadan, it is banned to consume alcoholic beverages, smoke, play loud music, or dance in the open air. Nothing, not even your finger, is allowed to enter your body; thus, no nose picking or nail-biting is permitted. Even for non-Muslims who live and work in Dubai, breaking these rules can result in severe fines.
Disrespect for religious beliefs and practices is deemed profoundly disrespectful and may result in a significant punishment and jail. All religions are respected in the UAE; thus, expats working in Dubai can follow them. The most common misperception about the Middle East is that it is a hostile place to other religions and cultures.
Alcohol consumption is strictly prohibited in Islam. However, this has not always been the case. After a few years, the Qur’an said that “intoxicants and games of chance” were “abominations of Satan’s creation,” and thus, Muslims were ordered to abstain from these activities as well. If you’re a non-Muslim and you want to drink alcohol at a licensed establishment, you’re allowed to do so as long as you have a liquor license of your own. To consume alcohol in their own homes, non-Muslims in the area must obtain a liquor license. If you’re granted a license, it is only valid in the Emirate from whence you applied.
It is possible to purchase and consume alcoholic beverages at hotels and clubs licensed, but note that this does not alter the legality outside of these establishments. If you are leaving the premises, you strongly recommend taking a taxi and not roaming around the area. You should think twice about working in Dubai if you plan on having a drink with friends or a bottle of beer at the end of the day.
Although the legal drinking age in Dubai is 21, it varies from one Emirate to the next. For example, in Abu Dhabi, the drinking age is 18 years old (although a by-law allows hotels to serve alcohol only to those over 21). Sharjah prohibits the consumption of alcohol. It’s also worth noting that travelers in the United Arab Emirates under the influence of alcohol may be detained, so don’t take advantage of the complimentary wine and beer onboard your international trip too much.
Discriminated Against Migrant Workers in Dubai
A human rights group has documented a slew of infractions of Emirati labor laws and Expo 2020’s worker welfare requirements, including forced labor and racial discrimination.
In a report released on February 2, Equidem said the Expo, a six-month mega event slated for 2020 but was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, is rife with racial discrimination and forced labor practices. It began in October 2021 and ended on March 31, 2022.
A total of 25 million visitors are expected throughout its six-month run as the first-ever world expo in the Middle East. After the Expo, the location will attract business, high-tech innovation, and a resident population, which could lead to an increase in the number of visitors.
According to a report, many migrant workers at Dubai Expo 2020 face racial discrimination and intimidation, forced labor, illegal recruitment fees, non-payment of wages and benefits, and retention of passports.
Based on research conducted from September through December of 2021, the paper is entitled “EXPOsed: Discrimination and Forced Labor Practices at Expo 2020 Dubai.” Equidem interviewed employees at Expo Dubai 2020 in private meetings. Migrant workers were put at risk for speaking out during the study.
Migrant laborers working on Expo 2020 Dubai projects from the hospitality and retail to construction and security sectors were found to be subjected to forced labor practices as a result of the investigation, it was discovered. “As far as Equidem is aware, none of these practices have been probed by the authorities, nor have any individual or firm been held accountable,” the report stated.
In 2021, a group of human rights professionals and campaigners from Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East came together to form Equidem, a human rights organization. Low-wage migrant workers from Asia and Africa are employed to perform research in Gulf countries for the organization.
Many of those interviewed paid “recruitment fees” in their home nations for the opportunity to work at the show. More than two-thirds of the foreign workers surveyed indicated they were not always paid on time or in full for the services they provided. Nearly three-quarters of employees (73 percent) reported encountering some form of harassment or bullying at work. In the United Arab Emirates, all of these practices are prohibited by law.
“It’s quite exhausting,” said Babik (not his real name), an Indian employee at Expo 2020 Dubai. I work from dawn till dusk, seven days a week. After my probationary period, they promised me an increase in my income, which I have yet to see. Overtime compensation has never been given to me by my employer. Employees are treated as if they were property. Modern enslavement comes to mind,” he continues.
According to a woman who works at an Expo 2020 Dubai hotel, “There is a lot of discrimination at work amongst countries. When the corporation was looking to terminate workers, I saw a lot of bias against employees of color who didn’t have anyone to speak up for them. Africans, in particular, were granted redundancy without compensation,” according to the New York Times.
Exhibit security guard Chandra told Equidem that his boss had his passport. We were forced to sign a document acknowledging receipt of our passports by the corporation, and our accommodation camp’s office is still where it is.” Employers in the United Arab Emirates are prohibited from seizing the passports of migrant workers under UAE legislation.
Over 90% of private-sector workers in the UAE are migrant workers. The Expo relies solely on them to build pavilions and infrastructure and provide cleaning, security, and hospitality services.
According to Equidem, the Expo’s construction alone involved 50 primary contractors, over 2,000 secondary contractors, and 40,000 people.
Mustafa Qadri, chief executive officer of Equidem, said, “Our research indicates a significant disconnect between the Emirate’s stated ambition of being a modern, international state and the reality of racial discrimination and forced labor practices that migrant workers are facing. Although the Expo organizers developed higher labor standards than national laws and mechanisms to lodge complaints, our research found that workers are too fearful of speaking out because of the real risk of punishment by employers or state authorities.”
Equidem questioned the decision to hold the Expo in the UAE. This state has faced regular reports of migrant workers being subjected to severe labor rights violations in recent years. “Based on these concerns, in September 2021, the European Parliament urged nations not to take part in Expo 2020 Dubai, citing the UAE’s ‘inhumane practices against foreign workers’ which it said had worsened during the pandemic,” the report says. The United Arab Emirates denies these accusations.
Equidem called on states and businesses represented at Expo 2020 Dubai – there are 192 national pavilions at the event – to conduct independent labor assessments on their sites at the megaproject. It aims to formally bring the perpetrators to justice while ensuring remedies for victims through the UAE authorities, wherever credible information about forced labor and other human rights violations is identified.
In 2020, Equidem released an extensive report, The Cost of Contagion, which highlighted the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the rights of low-wage migrant workers in the Emirates, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. Workers spoke of the financial ruin, poverty, and psychological impact of unpaid wages, poor accommodation, and inadequate access to medical care while COVID-19 infection rates soared across the three countries.
Under UAE national law and international conventions, forced labor or any other practice that may amount to the trafficking of persons is prohibited. Yet the authorities rarely prosecute forced labor and human trafficking cases.
Every major economy in the world, including the US, China, Japan, the UK, Germany, India, and some of the largest consumer brands as sponsors and partners, is represented at the Expo. Therefore, the failure to protect migrant workers’ rights at such an international event calls into question the international community’s commitment to human rights.
Furthermore, the UAE has announced a series of labor reforms that came into effect on February 2. However, they do not address the non-compliance of existing protections by businesses because of weak enforcement by the authorities. Trade unionism is illegal in the Emirates, leaving workers without any representation that helps them voice their concerns without fear of retribution or losing their job.