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Migrants work under dangerous heat as preparing for COP28

COP28 in Dubai; High temperatures exposed migrant workers to deadly conditions in direct violation of laws. FairSquare report

By Wahid Bhat
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Migrants work under dangerous heat as preparing for COP28

As the COP28 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Dubai approaches, a new investigation reveals that preparations for the event have exposed migrant workers to potentially deadly conditions.

The report, titled “This Weather Isn’t for Humans,” was released by FairSquare, a nonprofit human rights research and advocacy group. It found that workers were labouring outdoors in extreme heat last month to prepare conference facilities, in clear violation of laws designed to protect workers from the country’s harsh climate.

Researchers found evidence of workers labouring outside during the “midday ban,” a law prohibiting outdoor work during the hottest parts of the day in summer. Despite temperatures reaching as high as 107.6 degrees Fahrenheit, they still expected the workers to continue their duties.

The report highlights that work took place outdoors during the hottest part of the day, despite temperatures in Dubai reaching as high as 42 degrees Celsius. These conditions exceed internationally recognized standards for safe construction work.

Workers on the site reported extreme heat and expressed concerns about their health. They quoted one worker saying, ‘Last week, I thought I would die every second we were outside… but we have to get paid’. Another worker shared his experience of collapsing on the site in 2021 and expressed fears of it happening again.

Extreme heat conditions for migrant workers at COP28 site

Researchers interviewed 10 workers who had to work outside during the midday ban. These workers shared their experiences of how the intense heat affected them physically. Some of them had previously worked for the same employers on the construction of the site for Expo 2020.

One worker, who had been working on the Opportunity Pavilion, shared his experience: “Last week, I thought I would die every second we were outside. This week is still warm but it is not as bad as last week. I can actually stand outside for 5 minutes without feeling like I will faint. But yes, I did work outdoor in the daytime last week also. I don’t know what else to say. It is hot but we have to get paid.”

Another worker, working on the Dubai Exhibition and Convention Centre, expressed that he had no choice but to work through the heat as he needed the regular salary to support his family: “Of course, I get headaches and feel dizzy. Everyone in this heat does. This weather isn’t for humans, I think. But it is fine; we have jobs, we can provide for our families, we get paid on time. What else do we need? And if any day you get sick, they will make you stop working and take rest and maybe even not come the next day. But of course if you are outside in this heat, you will feel and get sick from time to time.”

Unsafe heat conditions for COP28 Workers

The World Health Organization warns that such extreme temperatures can lead to various illnesses, including hyperthermia, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Chronic exposure can also exacerbate health conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular, respiratory and kidney diseases.

The investigation focused on work at the Opportunity site and the Dubai Exhibition and Convention Centre, both of which will be part of the UN-managed “blue zone” for the COP28 conference.

COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber has stated that health will be at the center of climate discussions at the conference. However, this report highlights the urgent need for action to protect workers’ rights and safety in the face of climate change.

In response to the allegations, COP28 stated in a written communication to FairSquare that it was “unaware of any breaches of Summer Working Hours on the site of this year’s Conference.” They added that both COP28 and Expo City have “robust worker welfare policies and procedures.”

COP28 Preparations: Migrant workers’ health risk

FairSquare is now calling for an official investigation by COP28 organizers. They are urging UAE authorities to adopt a risk-based approach to limit workers’ exposure to heat, rather than relying on a calendar-based system. They recommend legislation requiring employers to provide workers with appropriate breaks in cooled, shaded areas when there is a risk of heat stress.

The FairSquare report highlighted that the Dubai airport did not give breaks to migrant workers during hours when the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) ranged from 88 to 91 degrees Fahrenheit. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends regular breaks during strenuous work when the WBGT exceeds 77 degrees Fahrenheit.

James Lynch, the founding co-director of FairSquare, echoed this sentiment. He stated that the UAE COP28 team must start ensuring the safety of the migrant workers preparing the Expo City site if they have a genuine commitment to protecting people's health from climate change.

This is not the first time that concerns over the effects of extreme heat have been raised at the Expo City site. In 2021, cleaners and security guards at the Dubai Expo center told the Associated Press of 70 hour weeks in the withering sun.

As COP host, the UAE has come under tremendous pressure due to its appointment of Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber, head of its national oil company (ADNOC) as COP president, and because it has pledged an aggressive expansion of oil and gas production.

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