Dubai Expo 2020 on Saturday acknowledged the deaths of five workers during the construction of the gigantic world fair, revealing for the first time public statistics on worker deaths.
The organization had previously indicated that its 200,000 workers worked about 240 million hours building the fence. It did not provide any general statistics on deaths, infections or coronavirus infections among workers despite repeated requests from the Associated Press and other reporters.
The admission comes after the European Parliament last month urged countries not to participate in the event due to “inhumane (Emirati) practices against foreign workers”, which have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. The decision added that construction companies before the exhibition “force workers to sign untranslated documents, confiscate their passports, expose them to harsh working hours in unsafe weather conditions, and provide them with unhealthy accommodation.”
At a news conference the day after the opening, Expo spokesman Sekoned McGeechen said information about the deaths had previously been available to reporters, and cited a statement about a memorial to honor the workers who erected the site from scratch, which did not provide further details. He added that the authorities will provide more information on this matter later.
McGeichen also acknowledged that authorities were aware of cases in which “contractors withheld passports” and carried out suspicious “employment practices” and workplace security breaches.
“We have taken measures to ensure that these cases are addressed and intervened,” he said, without elaborating.
The UAE, an oil-rich kingdom that relies on low-wage migrant labor from Africa, Asia and other Arab countries to sustain its economy, has faced criticism from human rights groups for mistreating these workers. But authorities have struggled to present a positive image of the fair, the first of its kind in the Middle East that seeks to show Dubai’s pride and attract millions of foreign visitors.
Those who work in the UAE cannot form unions, have very few rights, often work long hours at low wages and live in poor conditions.
The scorching heat of early autumn in Dubai proved dangerous even for those who visited on their first day on Friday: some tourists were lost in the humid weather as the temperature reached 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).
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