[Marxism] N.Y.U. Labor Guidelines Failed to Protect 10, 000 Workers in Abu Dhabi, Report Says

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Apr 17 07:22:04 MDT 2015


NY Times, Apr. 17 2015
N.Y.U. Labor Guidelines Failed to Protect 10,000 Workers in Abu Dhabi, 
Report Says
By STEPHANIE SAUL

About one-third of the migrant construction workers employed at New York 
University’s campus in Abu Dhabi — or about 10,000 people — were 
excluded from the protections of the university’s labor guidelines 
ensuring fair wages, hours and living conditions, according to an 
investigative report issued on Thursday.

The 72-page report said that some subcontractors were exempted from the 
guidelines based on decisions made by local contractors running the 
operation. One of those contractors was Mubadala, a real estate company 
owned by the government of Abu Dhabi.

“This practice of exempting companies from compliance created a 
significant gap in coverage that disenfranchised thousands of workers 
from the protections contemplated by the labor guidelines,” said the 
report, by the international investigative firm Nardello & Company.

The investigation was requested by N.Y.U. and an Abu Dhabi government 
agency after reports, including an article last May in The New York 
Times, were published saying that many of the workers, most of them 
recruited from South Asia, had been charged steep recruitment fees to 
get their jobs; that few were being paid what they had been promised; 
and that some lived in miserable conditions, all in contravention of 
standards N.Y.U. had established for the project. Those guidelines were 
developed in response to concerns about the region’s reputation for 
mistreatment of its imported work force.

In statements made on Thursday, N.Y.U. said the report found that a 
majority of the construction force had been treated in accordance with 
the guidelines. But it said it was taken by surprise by the findings on 
how many workers at the campus, which opened last year on Abu Dhabi’s 
Saadiyat Island, had not been protected, and it added that it would 
repay any shortchanged workers.

“That error, for which we take full responsibility, was inconsistent 
with the project’s publicly stated commitment to ensure that all of 
those working on the construction of the N.Y.U.A.D. Saadiyat Campus 
would be covered by our standards and compliance-monitoring program,” an 
N.Y.U. statement said.

The university said that a third party would be hired to handle 
reimbursement of the workers, but it was not immediately clear how much 
money that would involve.

The report found that the exceptions to the guidelines were initially 
designed to apply to a narrow group, such as vendors delivering goods to 
the project. Mubadala and other contractors later expanded the 
exceptions to include subcontractors whose work fell below $1 million or 
who worked on-site for less than 31 days at a time, or with gaps of 30 
days between visits, the report said.

Ultimately, this provided a financial incentive for contractors to break 
subcontracts into small amounts, eliminating extra costs for labor 
compliance, the report said.

The report was somewhat ambiguous about exactly how much N.Y.U. knew 
about the exemptions.

The report said that N.Y.U. did not know about the practice of granting 
exemptions, but it also said that “accounts vary” as to the extent of 
each party’s knowledge. Some N.Y.U. personnel interviewed said they were 
aware of a “time threshold,” the report said, but not the monetary 
threshold.

John Sexton, president of N.Y.U., said on Thursday that neither the 
university nor its Abu Dhabi government partner was aware of the 
exemption policy “or how widely it was being applied.”

The Nardello report took issue with some details in the Times article, 
specifically the genesis of a strike that led to the deportation of some 
workers. The report said the strike was related mostly to conditions at 
other projects in the area, where many hotels, businesses and cultural 
institutions have been expanding, in some cases, like N.Y.U.’s, with the 
financial backing of the oil-rich emirate.

But the report corroborated many of the article’s key findings. Among 
them was that hardly any of the workers had been reimbursed for fees, 
generally $1,000 to $3,000, that the workers had paid to recruitment 
agents in their home countries. The report estimated that more than 
25,000 workers would have qualified for the reimbursement.

Only 20 workers were reimbursed, partly because the N.Y.U. policy 
requiring reimbursement was interpreted to apply only to workers hired 
specifically to work at the N.Y.U. campus. But most workers were 
employed by contractors working on several projects, and so were not 
limited to working on the N.Y.U. job.

The report cited evidence that N.Y.U., after promising in 2011 that it 
would reimburse recruitment fees even for workers who started on other 
projects, later narrowed the reimbursement to those “specifically 
recruited to our job site.” In addition, only those who could supply 
proof of having paid recruitment fees would receive reimbursement.

Daniel Nardello, chief executive of Nardello & Company, said such proof 
was virtually impossible because the recruiting agents are often dubious 
characters. “It would be like getting a receipt from a loan shark,” he said.

In an email on Thursday, an N.Y.U. spokesman, John Beckman, said the 
university believed it had established reasonable requirements. “We are 
disappointed with the gap between what we intended and the outcome,” he 
said.

The investigation also found that 30 percent of workers said they had to 
give up their passports to employers as a condition of working at the 
campus, a violation of the N.Y.U. labor guidelines.

Claims of poor conditions for workers in the United Arab Emirates date 
back to a 2009 Human Rights Watch report alleging mistreatment of many 
of the more than five million low-paid migrant workers who had been 
employed in the country. Saadiyat Island, a development project hosting 
the N.Y.U. campus and planned branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim 
museums, had become a focal point of those complaints.

A Gulf researcher for Human Rights Watch, Nicholas McGeehan, said the 
Nardello report was well researched, applauding N.Y.U. for its promise 
to compensate workers.

Both Mr. McGeehan and the Coalition for Fair Labor at NYU, a 
faculty-student group, called for restitution to about 200 workers 
deported as a result of the strike.

Representatives of the United Arab Emirates and its principality Abu 
Dhabi did not respond to emails seeking comment on the report, which 
noted a fundamental difference between Western attitudes toward workers’ 
rights and those in the emirates.

“It is evident that U.A.E. law is completely inconsistent with labor 
practices in the U.S. and elsewhere in the West,” the report said in a 
footnote.

In March, the emirates banned travel there by Andrew Ross, a professor 
at N.Y.U.’s New York campus, who had been critical of labor conditions. 
Last year, a freelance writer who collaborated on the Times article, 
Sean O’Driscoll, was also barred from the country.

A version of this article appears in print on April 17, 2015, on page 
A25 of the New York edition with the headline: N.Y.U. Labor Guidelines 
Failed to Protect 10,000 Workers in Abu Dhabi, Report Says. Order 
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