1,500 Sharjah workers in violent wage protest
Sharjah, March 19, 2008
About 1,500 workers striking over pay in the UAE torched offices and vehicles on Tuesday, the official Wam news agency said.
"They destroyed office documents, broke windows and torched the first floor of the management building and a number of the cars and buses that belonged to their company," Wam reported citing a police official in Sharjah, one of seven members of the UAE federation.
It said the police were able to bring the situation under control at Al Sajaa district in Sharjah. The workers belonged to an electric and sewerage maintenance company, it said.
An anti-riot team sent to the scene surrounded the labour accommodation to prevent the spread of the riots, while a civil defence team put off the fire, which erupted in the offices and vehicles.
Director General of Sharjah police Brigadier Humaid Mohammed Al Hudaidi said despite the riot, police and labour officials dealt humanely with the rioters, but warned that the "authorities will not allow breaking of regulations, because there are legitimate procedures to submit claims to competent authorities to find solutions for disputes".
He called on workers not to resort to violence and subversion, leading to destabilising the tranquillity and stability enjoyed by the UAE.
Wam said the labourers had demanded a pay increase two weeks ago, but began protests before labour officials concluded talks. The employer had agreed a pay increase two months ago.
The news agency said the workers had destroyed about 45 cars and 28 buses and "tried to assault" policemen and labour ministry officials who had been at their housing compound.
It said the workers involved in the violence would be tried.
The protest was the second reported in the Gulf country since October when South Asian labourers vandalised police vehicles and public property in Dubai, a regional trade and tourism hub. A court sentenced 45 Indian construction workers to six months in jail followed by deportation in that case.
The UAE dirham is pegged to the sliding US dollar, forcing many of the country's army of guest workers to reduce the amount of money they send to dependents in their home countries.
Foreigners, from labourers to jet-set executives, comprise more than 85 percent of the UAE's population of about 4.5 million and are the driving force behind its construction boom.