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Mostly Asian expat workers end rare UAE strike

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Thousands of mainly Asian expatriate workers in the United Arab Emirates have ended a strike they began at the weekend in a rare stoppage aimed at improving their conditions, their employer said Wednesday.

"Arabtec confirms that all workers returned to work with no impact on any of its projects," the Dubai-based company, which is constructing the Louvre Abu Dhabi, said in a statement.

"This unwarranted stoppage had been instigated by a minority group who will be held accountable for their actions," said the company, adding the issue was "resolved amicably" with cooperation from the labour ministry, police and other official authorities.

"The UAE Ministry of Labour has recognised Arabtec's continuing commitment to the rights and well-being of its employees," said the statement.

It did not say, however, if the workers who began their strike on Saturday, affecting the pace of work at construction sites in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, had obtained any improvement in their conditions.

Strikes are banned in the United Arab Emirates, where unions do not exist and where authorities do not impose a minimum wage.

Unskilled workers receive a monthly salary of no more than 900 dirhams (about $245).

The National newspaper reported that the workers were demanding their 350 dirhams ($100) food allowance paid with their salaries rather than the three daily meals provided by the company.

The daily said police were called to a labour camp in Jebel Ali, south of Dubai, on Saturday after some staff refused to go to work. The situation appeared calm around the camp on Wednesday.

Arabtec employs some 40,000 people -- most of them South Asian construction workers.

The company built Dubai's landmark Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, and has won a $654 million contract to build the Louvre Abu Dhabi art gallery, set to open in 2015.

In 2011, 70 Arabtec workers were arrested in Dubai following a protest demanding wage increases in a labour camp.

The UAE and other Gulf countries have come in for repeated criticism from human rights groups over their treatment of millions of foreign workers, mostly Asians.

The watchdogs have particularly criticised the sponsorship system, still in force in most Gulf states, by which workers must be sponsored by their employer and which has been likened to modern-day slavery.

In December, an Indian man committed suicide in Dubai by throwing himself under a train after his employer refused him the right to return home.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130522/mostly-asian-expat-workers-end-rare-uae-strike