Migrant workers protest despite no worker rights

27 May 2020 13:41

(Photo: Karim Jaafar/AFP)

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated and complicated a global economic crisis, put migrant workers under strain from the loss of income, evidenced by the growing number of protests despite workers having very little access to economic, political and basic labour rights. 

According to media reports, in the United Arab of Emirates (UAE), Nearly 500 Nepali migrant workers, employed at an oil and gas company in Ruwais of Abu Dhabi, have gone on strike on 26 May after their employers failed to pay their salaries for the last two months.

The workers said that most of them have been confined to their apartments for the last two months without work while the company has not paid them anything for the period.

In a video allegedly streamed live on Facebook, workers are seen protesting on the premises of their quarters and stopping others from going to work.

In Qatar, media reported that migrant workers staged a “rare protest” over unpaid wages. Images on social media showed more than 100 workers blocking a main road in the Msheireb district of the capital Doha, clapping and chanting as police looked on.

This was confirmed by Qatar’s Labour Ministry which said that due to the late settlement of salaries, a number of migrant workers conducted a peaceful protest in the Msheireb area on May 22.

These are desperate actions of migrant workers that do not have the fundamental worker rights; they do not have the right to organise and are without collective power to fight their exploitation and to demand fair value for their work and worker rights. Workers engaged in protest actions face the possibility of harsh consequences that include termination of contracts and deportation. 

BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson said that “governments and employers must recognize that protesting migrant workers have limited access to recourse for lost wages and should show fairness and humanity in their response. Unless governments and employers commit to secure the health, jobs and incomes of migrant workers, spontaneous protests will become part of the new normal. Depending on the goodwill of governments and employers is not enough, migrant workers should have worker rights.”