LONDON — At least 40 laborers were hospitalized and 25 arrested last week after a violent brawl erupted between workers on Saadiyat Island in an incident allegedly provoked by the deportation of strikers and the hiring of “scab” workers in the aftermath of a strike affecting thousands of laborers in May. The violence, which has been reported in the local press, on local television, and Construction Week Online, is but the latest development in what has been an ongoing labor rights quagmire that previously caused significant delays to the Guggenheim project after a high-profile boycott orchestrated in 2011 by Gulf Labor. Saadiyat Island is the site of many significant museum projects, including Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and Louvre Abu Dhabi, both of which appear to have been impacted by the labor clashes.
Though the May strike was noted on the Gulf Labor website (and prompted a related action by the group at the Venice Biennale), the construction at Saadiyat did not appear to be hindered by the troubles, and the Guggenheim did not comment on the matter. After this week’s jailings and bloodshed, however, the Guggenheim may find itself once again forced to come to terms with participating in such an ethically compromising environment.
“It turned into a mass brawl and tens and tens of workers became involved. It was a domino effect,” Ashraf Zeitoon, group corporate communications director at Arabtec, the state-owned contractor running the project, told Abu Dhabi’s The National. Though the riot is variously reported to have been provoked by a minor ethnic squabble, the underlying rationale, according to several laborers who spoke with 7 Days in Dubai, was that the deported strikers were Bangladeshi and the replacement laborers Pakistani. Such deportations and hirings are clear violations of international right to strike principles as enshrined by the United Nations’ International Labour Organization.
The $27 billion Saadiyat Island cultural development will be home to the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, the Louvre Abu Dhabi, a Norman Foster-designed Nayed National Museum, and extensive leisure, luxury shopping, and residential real estate developments. Reports from the developer, Arabtec, suggest that work at the site had returned to normal by this Sunday, but another report suggested that some workers only returned to work on Wednesday.