In Defense of Dubai

Reuters has as one of its “pictures of the day” a photo of Sunil. Sunil is a 14 year-old working at a brick quarry in western India. He is paid two Indian rupees ($0.04) for each brick he carries out of the quarry. Each brick weighs about 40kg. He carries out about 100 bricks per day, making him daily wage of US$4. He has no safety gear, no protective clothing, likely has no health care if he is sick or injured, and probably has to work our and pay for his commute, residence, and food out of his own pocket. This type of labour sounds brutal — but these type of conditions are probably not unlike what many of our ancestors were doing between 100 and 200 years ago.

Sunit is one of tens of millions — maybe even hundreds of millions — of laborers in the subcontinent who would do significantly better if he came to Dubai (although that option is probably not open to him until he is 18 years old). He would likely be paid a minimum of US$200 a month (around AED600-800), and would probably live in a labour camp, be provided with meals, and be transported to his job, which would likely be in construction, but which could also be in mining, drivers, or other general labour. He would have one month of paid leave every year or two years in which he would fly back to see his family. And he would be provided with a uniform and safety gear — he wouldn’t be scrubbing around a quarry in shorts and sandals.

About half of the population in the UAE — and more than 70% of the population in Dubai — are from the subcontinent. These Indian, Pakistani, Nepali and Sri Lankan workers work in the Persian Gulf and send money to their families in their home country. You can easily meet South Asians in Dubai who have lived here a year, or two, or five, or even ten or more.

I see this as an opportunity for these workers. And while there are certainly issues — which are being addressed at various paces — overwhelmingly Dubai (and other states of the Persian Gulf) present an opportunity for these workers. But the situation of laborers in Dubai is generally reported in Western media as a scandal. Certainly there are real problems — delayed wage payments being one that was a real problem during the financial crisis — but Dubai, and the rest of the UAE, should not be judged by the labour standards of developed countries. There are already too many people trying to get into Dubai from South Asia as it is — were conditions much better, illegal immigration would be even worse problem.

About Curzon

Lord George Nathaniel Curzon (1859 - 1925) entered the British House of Commons as a Conservative MP in 1886, where he served as undersecretary of India and Foreign Affairs. He was appointed Viceroy of India at the turn of the 20th century where he delineated the North West Frontier Province, ordered a military expedition to Tibet, and unsuccessfully tried to partition the province of Bengal during his six-year tenure. Curzon served as Leader of the House of Lords in Prime Minister Lloyd George's War Cabinet and became Foreign Secretary in January 1919, where his most famous act was the drawing of the Curzon Line between a new Polish state and Russia. His publications include Russia in Central Asia (1889) and Persia and the Persian Question (1892). In real life, "Curzon" is a US citizen from the East Coast who has been a financial analyst, freelance translator, and university professor; he is currently on assignment in Tokyo.
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7 Responses to In Defense of Dubai

  1. Curzon says:

    With regards to illegal immigration being an even worse problem — you can go hiking in the norhern mountains of Musandam and Ras Al Khaimah, where it is just a 40km speed boat ride from the coast of Iran, and come across skeletons of people smuggled in — but who failed to reach their destination…

  2. Pingback: Dubai Running on Empty « The Islamic Workplace

  3. Thomas says:

    While it’s true that workers imported to the UAE often have a better time of it than if they had remained in their home country, that does not excuse mis-treatment of them in the UAE. They’re better off where they are and I won’t say otherwise but there are reforms that need to be instituted.

    It’s tautological to suggest that a given situation is acceptable simply because it could be worse.

  4. Michael says:

    At risk of changing the subject, reading this got me wondering what prevents other emirates from instituting reforms.

  5. Curzon says:

    The good:
    - Christopher Davidson is perhaps the only academic seriously writing about the history of the UAE. His books are really good.
    - the UAE is already a police state — for real.

    The bad:
    - Davidson is heavily influenced by a Marxist lense, and although he’s the best writer on UAE history out there, it’s exhausting to read how everything is a ruling class conspiracy.
    - I don’t see how the poverty of the northern emirates and the political freedoms of leading academics is linked.

    Certainly I agree with his conclusion, and it will be interesting to see what happens from here on out.

  6. Jupiter says:

    It’s 1835 and Untuh resides in what will someday be Mauritania. There, his small physical stature denies him a place in the tribe’s weekly hunt. Instead he must hunt for roots and berries, which he offers to the hunters in exchange for a small portion of the catch. He is illiterate, unclothed, and ignorant to the world beyond the 15 square mile territory of his tribe.

    Untuh is one of millions of Africans in 1835 who will benefit from being taken to the United States, where he will be clothed, fed, given proper shelter and the ability to work in a civilized, safe environment. I see this as an opportunity for Untuh, and while there are the occasional problems, if Untuh and his ilk were treated too well, they might start to get the wrong idea about their place in society.

    A horrible analogy, but this is a horrible post. I hope one day you look back and are embarrassed by it.