DUBAI: Under a blistering sun, a Pakistani worker covered in dust peers at a luxurious tower block rising from the desert sands of Dubai, an eldorado for expatriates which can turn into a life of misery for Asian labourers.

The man was among hundreds of Asian workers who demonstrated on Monday to protest over months of unpaid wages, highlighting the plight of low-paid expatriate labourers in the oil-rich Gulf region.

Hundreds of thousands of Asians work on scores of mega projects across the wealthy emirate of Dubai, often living in dire conditions and toiling long hours in temperatures as high as 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit).

“I haven’t even been able to earn half of what I paid to come here,” said the bearded man in blue worker’s overalls who asked not to give his name.

“The agency which hired me lied — like all of them operating in Asian countries. They advertised Dubai as a place with high salaries and ideal living conditions,” he said bitterly.

The worker said he paid 13,000 dirhams (3,500 dollars) to the agency which hired him for his current job in Dubai. “I even had to sell some of my belongings and the jewelry of my mother.”

He earns 750 dirhams (about 200 dollars) a month and works 11 hours per day fixing air-conditioning systems in ultra-humid Dubai, one of seven emirates making up the United Arab Emirates.

The Pakistani lives with several other roommates in a small, pre-fabricated shack in a camp housing thousands of Asian workers with similar stories.

With its sights set on becoming the region’s main business and tourism hub, Dubai is in the throes of a construction frenzy, with resorts, malls, sports installations and residential complexes sprouting up across its sands.

Expatriates are widely believed to make up about 80 per cent of the emirate’s population which exceeded one million residents earlier this year, with Asians making up the majority of foreigners.

Hundreds of Asian workers — mostly from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh — marched out of the site of the huge Palm Island project for the protest, in a street action which is highly unusual in the region.

Protestors said they had not been paid for between five and six months, and put their average monthly wages at about 600 dirhams (164 dollars).

The action prompted the labour ministry to exert pressure on the employer which agreed to pay two months of wages for the time being.

But being paid on time is not the only problem faced by the workers who also widely complain about work and living conditions at the camps which suffer from chronic water cuts.

Workers said they lived 18 per air-conditioned makeshift wooden lodging of 30 square meters (323 square feet) at the camp, which the AFP correspondent was promptly asked to leave.

“In order to take a shower, many times we have to walk to another camp” because of the cuts, said one worker, waiting next to the camp fence where his washed clothes were laid to dry in the sun.

One Indian worker said “I have been in Dubai for two years, and I have been working nine hours a day. I work overtime hours which are paid like regular hours.”

It is no perhaps no surprise that workers do not protest more often.

“Some people tell us not to speak about work and living conditions, and advise us to stay quiet or else we could have our work visas cancelled,” said one of the workers.

But delays in paying salaries remain their main concern for obvious reasons. “Our families in our home countries are the main victims, as they stay without any money for months,” explained a worker.—AFP

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