Photo by Connor Pearce/ The Gazelle

Subbing out: sub-contractors and compliance at NYUAD

The NYU Abu Dhabi campus is still a work in progress. Ongoing fit-out projects as well as the transition to main grid power during the Eid al-Adha mean ...

Nov 15, 2014

Photo by Connor Pearce/ The Gazelle
The NYU Abu Dhabi campus is still a work in progress. Ongoing fit-out projects as well as the transition to main grid power during the Eid al-Adha mean that subcontractors and sub-subcontractors continue to work on essential projects.
The people who do the final construction jobs on campus, for example, are contracted by Al-Futtaim Carillion (AFC), a joint U.K. and UAE construction contractor. AFC is contracted by Mubadala Development Company to build the campus. Mubadala is a government body which undertakes projects to develop Abu Dhabi. In the case of NYUAD, Mubadala has the responsibility to build the campus on Saadiyat Island.
A large web of contracts is relatively common on large construction projects, but the multiple smaller and short-term contracts present an issue for compliance. Short-term contracts and layers of contracts make it difficult to implement some points within the university’sStatement of Labor Values.
On Oct. 14, walking over to the large tent behind A6, another reporter and I engaged a few of the employees in conversation. The group that we spoke to was involved in the power switch during Eid al-Adha and worked for a company called Smooth Wave. Despite noting that the conditions at the NYUAD site were better than others that they had worked on, there were still problems.
The workers that we spoke with were housed in accommodations in Jebel Ali, Dubai. This required a one-and-a-half to two hour commute, each day, to get from their accommodation to the worksite. Speaking with these men, the sadly all-too-familiar series of violations came up: The workers were underpaid, only receiving a fifth of the amount that they were promised. There were more than four people per room and travel allowances and leave were not communicated to them. These violations were brought to NYUAD compliance and an investigation is ongoing.
However, NYUAD’s Office of Compliance and Risk Management is not the only compliance body involved. As outlined in the yearly Mott MacDonald report, three different compliance bodies interview workers and attempt to uphold the Statement of Labour Values. Firstly, there is NYUAD’s Office of Compliance and Risk Management which oversees the contracts which are directly held by NYUAD. These include Securitas and Global Wings, the security and transport providers respectively. Secondly, there is Mott MacDonald who was appointed by Tamkeen to oversee their contracts, such as Emirates Landscaping. The third compliance monitor is EC Harris, appointed by Mubadala to check for compliance and labor standards violations in the construction of the campus. In addition, Mott MacDonald was appointed to be the overall independent reviewer and reviews the reports written by itself, NYUAD’s Office of Compliance and Risk Management as well as EC Harris.
This multi-layered approach is effective as Erum Raza, Associate Compliance and Risk Management Officer at NYUAD notes.
“Joint monitoring increases the probability of detecting non-compliance because multiple parties are monitoring all contract staff in parallel, sharing findings and jointly determining how to rectify instances of non-compliance.”
All of these compliance bodies check against the same Statement of Labor Values and the Fourteen Points developed by NYU, found in the Mott Macdonald report.
Raza elaborated on the percentage of workers who are interviewed by the three different compliance monitoring teams. These workers include workers employed by NYUAD, Tamkeen and Mubadala.
“NYUAD, our government partners and our third party compliance monitor collectively interview a percentage of contracted and subcontracted staff that is comparable to recommended practices for labor standard monitoring — approximately 10 percent. Some interviews are planned while others are unannounced and conducted on the spot.”
According to the latest Mott MacDonald report, in 2013 EC Harris interviewed roughly 3.2 percent of the over 6000 construction workers contracted to Mubadala, who built the Saadiyat campus.
The workers from Smooth Way showed us into the large tent. It was a mess hall, where people who worked on the NYUAD construction site could come and have breaks, out of the heat. There were also washing and ablution facilities and a small medical center, something which is not common on other sites, according to the workers.
Inside the mess hall was a dusty copy of the Statement of Labor Values and the Fourteen Points. It was placed on the wall next to a smaller office and covered in dust. The document was in English and translated into Arabic and Hindi. Unfortunately, a large number of the workers here are from Pakistan and read Urdu, if they are literate at all; English, Arabic and Hindi are of no use to them. The workers we were there with had never read the Statement before and were barely aware of the rights it conferred upon them.
The complexities that come with any compliance monitoring project in the UAE started to become clear. Questions will inevitably arise when NYU’s Statement of Labor Values is in conflict with the way in which workers are treated elsewhere in the UAE.
One question which came out of our investigation was, how does one enforce the requirement of only four people per room when the worker to which it applies only works on the site for a month and may be living with more than three friends or relatives. Is moving this worker to another room or even another facility for the duration of their time at NYUAD a better solution for the worker if that might move him away from his loved ones?
Another worker who we spoke to, employed by Alpha Star to fit out rooms with furniture, had lived in Mussafah before coming to work at NYUAD. He was then moved to housing at the Al Dar camp on Saadiyat Island, but predicted he would move back to Mussafah once he finished working at NYUAD in a few weeks.
For other workers their conditions were compliant with regulations. Some AFC workers we spoke with were happy with their situation, albeit they had been working on NYUAD for over a year, and hence were not subject to the multiple different compliance requirements that other, short term workers had to navigate.
Attempting to implement the Statement of Labor Values has been a continuous process for NYUAD and has not been without its setbacks. Layers of contracts, short-term contracts and the lack of context of regulations make for an unclear landscape.
Connor Pearce is the managing editor. Email him at
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