A human right group revealed in an investigation that a company owned by a ruling family member in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) abused hundreds of workers of their rights after the liquidation of the company.
ImpACT International for Human Rights Policies, London based, said that three years after the liquidation of Abu Dhabi construction powerhouse Commodore Contracting, about 300 of its former employees—most of whom came to the UAE from India for the jobs—are still fighting to receive back pay and the termination benefits guaranteed them by UAE law.
About 5,000 labourers were housed in a camp built for the purpose, along with another 600 professional employees—including engineers, human resource practitioners and electricians—who lived either in the community or just outside.
A court ruling forced management to pay off camp residents at the end of 2018, after HH Sheikh Tahnoon Bin Saeed Bin Shakhboot Al-Nahyan bought out two co-owners in the business and tried to obtain a loan from the National Bank of Fujairah for 200 million AED so he could lease the land on which the camp was built to other businesses.
However, an estimated 300 professional workers who had been living outside the camp continued to wait. When even court rulings in their favor were not honored, they took their grievances to the Ministry of Labour.
Biju Pushpangathan, 38, worked as an electrical draftsman for Commodore for more than 12 years. Since the company closed in August 2017, he has struggled to force management to pay him nearly six months of unpaid salary; to date, he has been awarded only 22% of what he is owed.
“That is nothing! I worked hard and sincerely until the last days of the company, but nobody is taking responsibility to pay my back wages,” Pushpangathan told ImpACT International for Human Rights Policies. “We tried to approach company management head directly, but it was hopeless. So, we went through the Labour Rights Department of the government. After a long time, they got us a small amount, but we are still waiting for the rest. Meanwhile, my financial situation is very bad. I am really struggling.”
Founded in 1980, Commodore Contracting LLC was established by three partners: HH Sheikh Tahnoon Bin Saeed Bin Shakhboot Al-Nahyan, who owned 51%; Ahmed El-Huseini, 34%; and Commodore Contracting Co. Offshore, 15%. El-Huseini, a Lebanese national, was a notorious go-between for arms sales who was indicted by German prosecutors for fraud and later fled the UAE.
A UAE ruling family member
Financial Times calls Al-Nayan, the brother of the crown prince and now the national security adviser, “one of the UAE’s most influential figures. His rise over the past decade epitomises the nexus between power, business and national strategic interest in Gulf states…It also offers a glimpse into the inner workings of Abu Dhabi’s absolute monarchy, where the ruling family and a clique of trusted lieutenants dominate security and key sectors of the economy, blurring the lines between state and private enterprise.”
Al-Nahyan bought out El-Huseini and the offshore company, then liquidated—reportedly due to high levels of debt. In the last months of the company’s operation, management simply didn’t pay its employees.
After the Commodore workers brought the lawsuits, 48 million AED was pledged from the liquidation account as compensation for the former employees. However, the workers say they have yet to be paid in full.
ImpACT International obtained a list of 129 Indian employees who went to court and were promised settlements. Of those, only 14 have received the full amount pledged. At the other extreme, 47 have not been paid anything at all.
The remainder received partial payments; although the court awarded amounts as high as 392,000 AED to the workers, no one received more than 49,000 from the company.
Resorting to Twitter
ImpACT reported some of workers’ complaints Twitter to publicize their trials:
Returned home without receiving any rights…Settlement is only hope for me to survive.
We are back to India without getting our settlements from Commodore Contracting company. Same like some people in UAE. Please help getting our settlements.
We are more than 300+ employees struggling for not getting our salaries & dues for 3 years. Presently we are in big financial trouble please help us.
P.Z., 34, who worked in the engineering division for eight years, is one of them. (He asked to be listed only with his initials.)
“I wasn’t paid from April to September of 2017, and didn’t receive my end-of-service benefits either,” he said. “I was owed 94,636 AED. In July of last year, I finally receive 49,000 AED, but that’s all. Other former employees were owed a lot more but still only got 49,000.”
A.Z, 35, worked for Commodore for four years, adds: “I have asked everyone for my financial rights, but no one can or will help me, even government agencies, because the owners of the company are important people. I have a family of five, and now we struggle to get our daily bread. I sometimes work intermittently, but that is not enough.”
Many of the employees are giving up and returning to their home countries (mostly India, but also Pakistan, Syria, Bangladesh and others).
M.J, 46, worked for the company for seven years. “After I lost hope in getting what I am owed, I went back to India with nothing. Today, no one in my family works, and I have only day-to-day work with little pay, which is not even enough to even buy bread. Sometimes I borrow money from my friends and tell them I am waiting for my former company to send me my compensation. They no longer believe I can pay them back; I do not even believe myself.”
A British employee who asked not to be identified by name because he is still working in the UAE said he worked for Commodore for years. Yet when the company liquidated, he received only a very small percentage of the compensation he was owed.
“I know hundreds of workers who did not receive what they were owed,” he told ImpACT International. “I got only a small share of it and I still can’t get the rest; but most of the workers got nothing. Today I work for another company, but many Asian workers are vulnerable and don’t have any alternative. A large number of them returned to their homes with accumulated debts instead of enough money to cover their families’ expenses.”
Another employee said to ImpACT: “The Commodore group was very big, but they claim they don’t have money to pay us. They say they liquidated with zero fixed assets except for a few vehicles and materials. How is that possible?”
ImpACT added that former Commodore employees are not the only individuals impacted by the dissolution of the company. Subcontractors also say they have not been paid.
A court ruled on 21 February 2018 that Commodore management must pay 491,797.93 it owed for electrical appliances it had purchased two years earlier, along with court and attorney fees paid by subcontractors trying to recoup their losses.
The wife of the owner of one the subcontractors tweeted that, “My husband is in prison because of the Commodore company, which is owned by HH Sheikh Tahnoon bin Saeed bin Shakhbout Al Nahyan, after he deceived us. There was a ruling from the Abu Dhabi court, but he did not accept it. Nobody helps us. We are helpless. We want justice.”