Labor & Workforce

‘Migrant workers exposed to climate change risks, labor abuse in UAE’

Cairo, Nov 21 (EFE).- Migrant workers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are exposed to labour abuse and increasing climate risks as they work in extreme heat conditions without adequate protection, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Tuesday.

According to the global rights body, migrant workers form 88 percent of the population in the oil-rich gulf country and often come from climate-vulnerable countries like India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan.

“UAE-based migrant workers and their communities back home are among those contributing least to the climate crisis, yet are often the ones who have the greatest exposure to climate harms and are struggling to deal with them,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at HRW.

“Not only is the UAE contributing to the climate crisis as one of the world’s largest fossil fuel producers, but its deep-rooted labor abuses and inadequate heat protections contribute to climate injustice in multiple ways.”

Between May and September 2023, HRW interviewed over 100 current and former UAE-based migrant workers from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal.

The migrants, working in construction, cleaning, agriculture, animal herding, and security sectors, were often exposed to the UAE’s extreme heat, “which is also increasing due to climate change.”

Most of these workers live in or are from areas already facing devastating consequences of the climate crisis such as floods, cyclones, and salinization of agricultural lands, the rights group said.

“The UAE authorities are externalizing climate risks to migrant workers, who are disproportionately exposed to extreme heat, without ensuring adequate protections and by sending workers home who face serious health harms without remedy.”

HRW called on the foreign governments to pressure the UAE, the host of the COP28 Climate Summit to be held from Nov. 30 to Dec. 12, to strengthen its labor protections for migrant workers to address abuses.

A Pakistani air conditioning technician told HRW that the excessive heat in the UAE made “living without air conditioning impossible.”

“Repairing units is akin to an emergency. Clients demand swift repairs,” the worker said.

He claimed he worked 14-hour days in the heat without health insurance, had no paid sick leave, and faced additional pay deductions for days he was too sick to work.

In addition to extreme heat, HRW said, the workers were also subject to labor abuses like wage theft and exorbitant recruitment fees, which affected their ability to send home remittances.

Pakistan and Bangladesh are among the top 10 global recipients of remittances at fifth and seventh positions.

Remittances by migrant workers have long been a critical income source for their families, said HRW.

It can reduce migrant workers’ families’ vulnerabilities to economic shocks and meet basic needs like food and shelter.

“Remittances are not a cure-all for challenges migrant workers’ families face, nor should it be considered a replacement for proper climate adaptation planning,” said Page. EFE


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