[Marxism] Late Wages for Migrant Workers at a Trump Golf Course in Dubai
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Sun Aug 27 10:28:09 MDT 2017
NY Times, August 27 2017
Late Wages for Migrant Workers at a Trump Golf Course in Dubai
By PETER S. GOODMAN
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — They are not inclined to complain, not
about the merciless sun or the 110-degree heat, as they labor to
transform the pale sands of the Arabian desert into verdant fairways.
They accept with resignation that their families are far away, in India,
Pakistan or Nepal.
What these migrant workers cannot abide is how frequently their
employer, a local construction company, pays them late, delaying the
money they send home and forcing their families to borrow. They are
especially frustrated given where they have been dispatched to work —
the Trump International Golf Club, part of President Trump’s global
array of business interests.
“He has countless amounts of money!” fumed a 24-year-old Pakistani who
works as a driver for the local construction company that has a contract
at the course, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of losing his
job. “We are very far away from our houses, from our children, our
families. It hurts us.”
The Trump International Golf Club, which officially opened in February,
is the centerpiece of Damac Hills, a gated complex of 4,000 luxury
villas and 7,500 condos selling for up to $4 million each. Sixteen miles
to the east, a second Trump-branded course is being built inside an even
larger resort, Akoya Oxygen, where a recent promotion beckoned: Buy two
villas and get two Mercedes-Benzes.
While the president’s company, the Trump Organization, is not the
workers’ employer, it manages the properties through a partnership with
Damac, one of Dubai’s largest real estate developers. Mr. Trump has
earned $2 million to $10 million from the two golf courses, according to
financial disclosures he filed last year with the Federal Election
Commission. The structures of the deals on the two properties are unclear.
The migrant workers make $200 to $400 a month, money that frequently
comes weeks or months late, prompting recent strikes, according to
interviews conducted by The New York Times with two dozen current and
former workers at the Damac Hills course, where hundreds of laborers
have been employed in recent years. The workers say they struggle to
cover debts amassed in paying recruitment agents for their jobs, while
confronting physical hardships and violations of their rights under
local labor laws.
Most of the workers interviewed by The Times have been employees of a
local construction company, Al Arif, which has a contract from Damac to
build parts of the course and surrounding villas at Damac Hills. They
spoke on condition that they not be identified, citing risks they could
be fired and deported, because their visas were sponsored by their employer.
There is no evidence that Mr. Trump is aware of the conditions for the
workers employed by the contractor at his golf course. He has handed
over management of his company to two of his sons, Donald Jr. and Eric.
The Trump Organization’s purview has been designing and managing the
courses, leaving the construction to Damac.
The White House did not respond to questions, referring inquiries to the
“Trump is not the owner or developer of Trump International Golf Club
Dubai nor does it oversee construction or employ or supervise any of the
companies or individuals who have been retained to work on the building
of the project,” said a company spokeswoman, Amanda Miller, in an
“Trump has a zero-tolerance policy,” the statement continued. “To the
extent any worker at the project believes they are being treated
improperly, we would urge them to immediately notify their employer and
the proper governmental authorities.”
Damac’s senior vice president for marketing and corporate
communications, Niall McLoughlin, did not respond to requests for comment.
A receptionist at Al Arif Group in Dubai referred calls to the head of
the company’s immigration department, Aziz Dashti, and supplied a mobile
telephone number. A man who answered the number initially confirmed that
he was Mr. Dashti, and rejected claims of worker mistreatment. Later, he
said he was not Mr. Dashti.
Dubai and the broader United Arab Emirates have drawn notoriety for the
exploitation of migrant laborers, who make up more than 80 percent of
the national population. By that measure, it is the largest
concentration of migrants in the world.
American leaders have traditionally championed elevated labor standards
around the world. The State Department details abuses of labor standards
in its annual human rights reports.
“We really don’t want to be in a situation where senior government
officials are thinking about how much money they are going to cost
themselves by enforcing U.S. government policy,” said Robert W. Gordon,
a law professor at Stanford and an expert on conflicts of interest,
referring to Mr. Trump’s public role and private business. “We are
talking here about the head of the U.S. government personally benefiting
from lax labor standards in another country.”
The workers at Al Arif, the construction company, described a constant
state of anxiety over when they would be paid.
Typically, they must wait days or weeks to receive what is due. They
have frequently engaged in strikes lasting one or two days, after which
Al Arif has made good.
More than half of the workers said Al Arif had withheld one or two
months of pay to pressure them to remain until the end of their
contracts, typically two years.
Six of the workers said they had paid recruitment companies to get their
jobs — an apparent violation of United Arab Emirates’ labor law. They
have been charged fees of $1,000 to $1,500, more than most will earn in
All the workers said their employer held their passports, which also
violates national law. This effectively makes it impossible for them to
seek better positions elsewhere.
That Mr. Trump’s company would find its way to Dubai seems inevitable.
The city of Dubai has emerged as a pre-eminent playground for the
fabulously wealthy. Its skyline comprises a riotous profusion of
futuristic skyscrapers, among them the world’s tallest building. It has
islands shaped like palm trees, opulent restaurants, spas with
treatments worthy of a maharajah, and an indoor ski area.
The Angelina cafe in Dubai Mall. Credit The New York Times
In Damac, Mr. Trump’s company has found a like-minded partner, one that
has emblazoned its name across skyscrapers.
The company’s founder, Hussain Sajwani, has a net worth estimated at
around $4 billion, earning him the nickname “the Donald of Dubai,” a nod
to Mr. Trump. He and his family spent New Year’s Eve with Mr. Trump at
his Florida resort, and he attended the president’s inauguration.
In an interview with The Times last year, Mr. McLoughlin, the Damac
spokesman, said Mr. Trump had visited Damac Hills several times.
“When Donald Trump was here, he was looking at the course, looking at
the trees,” Mr. McLoughlin said. “He wanted one tree moved. The details
of the course, the buggies, the shirts, and the staffing, the restaurant
design, and the furniture and the management. His attention to detail is
When the Trump International Golf Club opened in February, Donald Jr.
and Eric, the president’s sons, both attended.
“It’s rare in the world where you can be such great friends with a
partner,” Eric Trump declared. “Damac is an amazing company.”
Donald Trump Jr. praised the vision of Dubai’s ruler, Sheik Mohammed bin
Rashid al-Maktoum. “In Dubai, if you can envision it, you can build it,”
Building anything in Dubai invariably involves migrant workers, in
transactions that often deviate from the law.
Human rights organizations have cataloged widespread labor violations in
the United Arab Emirates. In response, the government has made it
permissible for migrant workers to change jobs while outlawing payments
to recruitment firms.
But officials frequently invest in real estate deals, undermining their
incentive to enforce labor standards.
“The entire system is rife with conflicts of interests and the
exploitation of migrant workers,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, director of
the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch.
Major players seek to shield themselves from liability by subcontracting
to local companies. “That is the classic way that international
companies try to dodge responsibility,” Ms. Whitson said.
Al Arif, the company supplying workers for the Trump course at Damac
Hills, houses its workers in isolated apartment complexes in the desert.
Several thousand workers fill closet-size rooms. Most occupy bunk beds.
Some sleep on mats.
The housing complex is miles from shops and food stalls, forcing workers
to buy provisions from a small store inside the camp. They pay 5 dirhams
— about $1.35 — for 1.5 liters of water, double the cost in downtown Dubai.
The company transports workers to the Damac Hills site in buses that
lack air-conditioning. Fans blow hot air through the vehicles as men
bunch together, dabbing at sweaty bodies with muslin scarves.
The Pakistani driver who works at the Trump course arrived three years
ago, seeking to support his wife and two boys. He took a job driving a
pickup, earning over $800 a month, or more than twice his pay at home.
He is supposed to be paid within the first five days of the month.
Frequently, a week or more passes without the money arriving.
“My family is dependent on me,” he says. “When I don’t send money,
shopkeepers stop giving groceries to my family.”
In January, laborers refused to work until they were paid, resuming only
when the money arrived the next day. The months since have seen similar
Paindkhel, 28, arrived last year from Pakistan, where his family grows
wheat and potatoes. He paid a recruitment agent $1,500, borrowing funds
from neighbors and relatives.
Mr. Paindkhel is not familiar with golf. He does not understand the
purpose of the lush grass that he and his co-workers have grown in the
desert, though he admires its serene beauty.
He cannot read the signs identifying the golf resort as a Trump
property. He cannot read at all.
But he sees the chandeliers in the clubhouse, the air-conditioning
equipment in the surrounding villas. Then he rides the furnace-like bus
back to the camp and waits for a shower in a grubby bathroom.
“They are spending so much money on the materials for buildings,” he
says, “but so little on us.”
His friend shrugs. There are no good jobs back in Pakistan, he says.
Hardships notwithstanding, this is their livelihood.
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