December 11, 2007

Gulf: “The Invisible Footsoldiers of Globalization”

11.19.07 | By Shlok Vaidya |


Of the 28 people who died in a Nov 18 natural gas pipeline construction accident, 6 were Indian nationals. This incident is an opportunity to shed some light on the almost 4 million Indians in the Gulf states who input $5 billion a year into the Indian economy.

These individuals pay as much as $1,500 to earn passage to the Gulf states. More often than not, they are unable to discern the legitimacy of their local immigration service provider and, given the prevalence of illicit human trafficking networks in this part of the world, many find themselves unwitting illegal immigrants. Those who do hold valid visas, upon disembarking, have their passports taken away and are forced to work as pseudo-slaves.

This has resulted in significant worker unrest and more recently, large scale demonstrations - such as in the 4,000 strong demonstration in Dubai - in countries that do not allow workers to unionize or strike, like the UAE. This unrest is likely to expand and intensify, now that the labor market is saturated to a point where the average construction worker earns 600 dirhams a month, but living costs average around 700 dirhams.

This uptick has the potential of destabilizing the booming economy of the Gulf. Especially since Indians make up 50% of the private labor force. Adding in Bangladeshi and Pakistani workers bring that figure up to 75%.

This has not gone unnoticed. Rather than relying solely on its usual tactic of deporting the activist leaders, the UAE recently implemented an amnesty program targeting 341,000 illegal immigrants, of which 70,000 were Indian. 40,000 of the latter participated and have returned to the workforce, but the wage/costs ratio is a critical problem yet to be solved.

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