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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 March 2006, 15:14 GMT 16:14 UK
UAE to allow construction unions
Dubai building site
Dubai and Abu Dhabi are enjoying a construction boom
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is drafting a law that will allow labourers to form trade unions and pursue collective bargaining.

At present both are illegal for construction workers in the UAE, which is seeing massive construction booms in main cities Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

The new law is expected to be in place by the end of the year.

The UAE has come in for criticism over poor treatment of the mainly foreign labourers, an accusation it denies.

Controlling strikes

"Labourers will be allowed to form unions," said UAE labour minister Ali al-Kaabi.

The UAE government is turning a blind eye to a huge problem
Human Rights Watch

"We're going to have one union, with separate representatives for the construction, fishing, agriculture and other industries.

"The law will control how strikes will be conducted. It will outline rights, the do's and don'ts.

"There will be a labour representative who will be our point of contact. It will make contact with the labourers much easier."

'Less than human'

Mr al-Kaabi's comments follow after a highly critical report by the US-based Human Rights Watch watchdog.

It accused the UAE of abusing the rights of hundreds of thousands of underpaid mainly foreign labourers.

Human Rights Watch said the men - who generally came from India, Pakistan and China - were treated as "less than human".

It blamed increasing worker protests as the result of wage shortages, dangerous working conditions and squalid living quarters.

"The government is turning a blind eye to a huge problem," said the group's regional director Sarah Whitson.

An official for the UAE told the AP news agency said the watchdog's accusations were misguided.

The UAE is made up of seven emirates - Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm al-Qaiwain.

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