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Labour guidelines violated against 10,000 at NYUAD

Independent investigators, Nardello & Co. - hired by NYU - "estimated that between 30% and 35%... were ultimately not protected by the guidelines"

New York University Abu Dhabi campus
New York University Abu Dhabi campus

Up to 10,000 workers "were ultimately not protected by the guidelines" set in place by developer New York University (NYU) to protect labour rights, a new study has claimed.

Modern Slavery: The Dark Side of Construction, published on Wednesday, 22 July 2015, by Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB), stated the "New York University (NYU) Campus project in Abu Dhabi, UAE, is a salutary lesson of how a client can fail to protect workers rights, despite setting out with the best intentions". 

"Recognising the difficult working conditions and abusive labour practices that labourers often encounter in the region, client NYU published a set of fair employment guidelines before construction work began on site, also implementing a compliance monitoring regime. 

NYU Abu Dhabi campus' intention was to ensure that the guidelines should protect all 30,000 workers engaged through the lifetime of the construction programme 

"But the university campus quickly began to attract negative and damaging headlines. Among the accusations in The New York TimesThe Guardian, and The Times articles, and NGO reports, were that workers had paid exorbitant recruitment fees (an illegal practice in the country), and were earning lower than agreed wages and living in poor quality accommodation. 

"Workers had also been forced to give up their passports to their employer, in contravention of NYU guidelines."

CIOB's report quoted a study published by independent investigators Nardello & Co. for NYU, published in April 2015, which found that "a major source of the problem was not the guidelines themselves... but that the contractors and monitors were redefining who would fall within their parameters". 

"For practical reasons, exemptions to the guidelines had been introduced to a narrow group of workers whose involvement in the project was more peripheral, such as vendors delivering goods to site.

Unknown to the client, "contractors on site began to expand the exemptions to other areas: subcontractors whose work fell below $1m; workers who were on site for less than 31 days at a time, or had gaps of 30 days between visits." 

CIOB's study continued: "There was a lack of clarity among monitors about how the exemptions should be applied and interpreted. As a result, subcontractors were financially incentivised to break the contracts into smaller sizes, reducing their labour costs, and increasing profit.

"Nardello estimated that between 30% and 35% – or around 10,000 workers, were ultimately not protected by the guidelines." 

As per CIOB's study, the most prevalent violations of the guidelines, according to Nardello, were payment problems.

"NYU has since pledged to reimburse workers’ recruitment fees", CIOB's report added.

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