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Construction Workers Stage Rare Protest in Dubai

Hundreds of foreign construction workers staged a rare public protest on Tuesday outside the opulent Dubai Mall, one of the main tourist attractions in the United Arab Emirates, in a pay dispute with their company.

Dubai authorities deployed riot police to Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Boulevard in downtown Dubai, where the world's tallest building is located, blocking some roads while negotiators tried to settle a dispute about overtime pay.

The workers, from south Asia, said the company had stopped overtime work and pay at a time when basic salaries were too low.

The Dubai government media office, in a message over Twitter, said Dubai police helped to resolve the dispute. “Within an hour, Dubai Police resolved issues of Fountain Views workers gathered in Boulevard demanding bonus,” it said.

Details of the agreement between the protesters and the company were not announced, but the company's general manager Hassan Auji later told Reuters that the workers' demands were not legitimate.

“Their main complaint was on incentives - which, by law, we are not obliged to pay,” Auji said by telephone.

A Pakistani employee of Arabian Construction Co (ACC) who identified himself only as Mohammed said a worker's basic monthly salary was less than 500 dirhams ($136) and with overtime pay, one could make around 1,100 dirhams.

“We don't have overtime work any more so we're striking. I'm not afraid to ask for my rights,” he said.

The company said it was continuing to pay workers for some overtime but had cut back on incentive pay, which was used to speed up construction work but became unnecessary.

Protesters later also raised complaints about food allowances, medical services and transportation, which were also resolved and did not have merit, Auji said.

Dubai, the business and tourism hub of the United Arab Emirates, is enjoying a construction boom following its recovery from the 2008 financial crisis; hundreds of thousands of migrant workers staff the UAE's building sites. Dissent is tightly controlled and public protests are generally prohibited.