Dubai Expo revises employee demise toll as much as six, declines to say if extra died By Reuters

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Workers walk around the Expo 2020 site ahead of the opening ceremony in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Sept. 30, 2021. REUTERS / Rula Rouhana

By Alexander Cornwell

DUBAI (Reuters) – Expo 2020 Dubai, the major world exposition that opened last week, increased the number of worker deaths to six on Sunday to include COVID and construction-related deaths, but said it couldn’t say whether others died other causes.

The state organizer announced that in addition to the previously announced three construction-related deaths among 200,000 people who worked on the expo in the past six years, three people had died after contracting COVID-19.

The United Arab Emirates are expecting 25 million visitors over the next six months for the $ 6.8 billion expo, which, like other mega-projects in the Gulf region, has attracted international attention about the conditions of migrant workers.

When asked by Reuters whether there had been other deaths, including whether workers had died off-site from other reasons, executives repeatedly denied and referred inquiries to authorities.

“We’re just not allowed to disclose this information,” said Rob Cooling, vice president of health and safety.

Dubai’s media office did not respond to a request for comment.

Limited protection is offered to migrant workers in the United Arab Emirates and other Gulf States. People in low-paying jobs are the most vulnerable to exploitation, often living in cramped, unsanitary neighborhoods, and typically paying high recruitment fees.

The European Parliament last month called on member states to boycott the expo over the UAE’s “inhumane practices” against migrant workers that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. The United Arab Emirates rejected the allegations.

Expo 2020 says it enforces higher workplace standards than the UAE requires that contractors be screened and that it intervene if violations are found.

The three people killed in construction-related incidents were from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Germany, Cooling said, adding that investigations into the individual incidents revealed that the deaths were accidents.

One of the COVID-19 deaths was a worker, he said while the others worked in a site office.

Expo recorded 72 serious injuries among workers during construction of the site and defended the accident rate, which is less than half of the UK’s construction work.

Emma Seymour, vice president of Worker Welfare at the expo, said 2,000 prime contractors and 2,000 subcontractors were working on the construction and many are unaware of UAE regulations. Two contractors were kicked out of the project after failing to fix violations.

Violations included workers not being paid or underpaid and labor fees being billed, she said, adding that 300 workers found to have paid recruitment fees received around 420,000 dirhams from their employer, according to an Expo investigation ($ 114,354) were reimbursed.

There is no minimum wage in the UAE and the expo has only set one for cleaning staff at 1,000 dirhams (272) per month.

($ 1 = 3.6728 UAE Dirham)

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