Welcome to Dubai: The tragedy of Pakistani workers in the Gulf countries

A few months ago, when 35-year-old Muhammad Shahid got a job as a driver in Abu Dhabi, his father distributed sweets throughout the neighborhood. His salary was fixed at eight hundred dirhams a month, which is about thirty-five thousand Pakistani rupees. He was also told that his accommodation and medical expenses in Abu Dhabi would also be borne by the company employing him.

Muhammad Shahid, the eldest of four siblings, thought that he would save some money from this salary and send it back to Pakistan, which would support his family. But upon arriving in Abu Dhabi, he was offered neither a driver’s job nor a fixed salary and other benefits.

“When I got here, I was handed over to a local man named Muhammad Ismail,” He started hiring me to clean cars at a service station but did not pay me for two months.
When he told his father all this, he was “severely traumatized.”

Muhammad Shahid had paid an agent Rs 100,000 to go to Abu Dhabi, which his father had collected with a loan. Due to the pressure of repaying the loan, his father became depressed and died a few days later.

Mohammad Shahid says: ‘This news has become a mountain on me. I tried hard to go to Pakistan so that I could see my father for the last time. I also prayed for Muhammad Ismail but this ruthless man did not allow me to go back to Pakistan.

For the past few months, Mohammad Shahid has been working on a very low salary. “I get a salary of four hundred dirhams, of which two hundred to three hundred dirhams is spent on food,” he said.

When he asks Muhammad Ismail to allow him to return to his home in Kamalia Tehsil, Toba Tek Singh District, Punjab, he is told, “Give me four thousand dirhams for your medical test and insurance. So you will be let go and if you can’t pay, then work for two years .

Due to Pakistan’s poor economic situation, a large number of illiterate and semi-trained people turn to the Arab states for employment. 

Due to Pakistan’s unfavorable economic conditions, a large number of illiterate or semi-literate and semi-trained workers like Muhammad Shahid are looking for jobs abroad – especially in the Arab states. This trend began in the 1970s when large-scale new cities began to be built in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich Arab countries. Since the demand for Pakistani workers was high in the beginning, these workers were well paid, which resulted in a significant improvement in the economic condition of their families.

However, this situation is changing now because on the one hand the oil revenues of these Arab countries are declining and on the other hand they have cheap labor available from countries like Bangladesh and India. That is why Pakistanis working there are now facing severe exploitation.

Among them is Muhammad Khan, a resident of Gagumandi town in Burewala tehsil of Vehari district. He is the sole breadwinner of his family but he was not getting any job in Pakistan and his financial condition was deteriorating day by day. Meanwhile, a friend of his offered him a job in Sharjah for a commission of one lakh rupees. He accepted the offer and gave the required amount to his friend.

A few weeks later, a Sharjah visa was affixed to his passport.

Muhammad Khan says, “My family was very happy when I got my visa. All my relatives came to my house to greet me. I was also very happy that now the conditions of our house will change.

Many workers going to the Gulf countries do not get the jobs and salaries they are told 

He was told that he would work as a plumber in Sharjah and his salary would be thirteen hundred dirhams a month ie fifty five thousand rupees. But on arrival in Sharjah, he was given the job of a helper and is paid five hundred to seven hundred dirhams a month. “Most of this money is spent on food and medical treatment and some is deducted as an installment of visa fees.”

So, despite working for many months, Muhammad Khan has not yet been able to send a single rupee to his family. he says: ‘I work ten hours a day. The daily wage is 40 dirhams at the rate of four dirhams per hour. In case of illness, you have to pay out of your own pocket.

The friend who sent him to Sharjah never contacted him again. When he calls him himself, his number has been blocked.

According to Mohammad Khan, the company he works for in Sharjah has set up two labor camps where hundreds of Pakistanis live. Some Indians and Bangladeshis also live there. Most of the Pakistanis there are from different districts of Central Punjab. According to Mohammad Khan, in these camps, “there are eight to nine people living in small rooms, all of whom suffer from the same problems.”

The manpower required in Arab countries is brought in from countries like Pakistan, India and Bangladesh through local agents there. These agents are called ‘arbabs’ or ‘sponsors’ who supply imported labor to various companies. The wages of these laborers are paid only to the masters who later distribute them among the laborers but from this they make various deductions. Muhammad Khan, for example, says that “if he is forced to take leave, 25 dirhams are deducted from his salary.”

Demand for Pakistani labor in Gulf countries has declined due to availability of cheap labor from India and Bangladesh.

He also said that the companies could not be informed about the cuts as the employers threatened to send them back if any worker complained about them. “A worker who has gone abroad with a loan does not want to come back, so he is forced to work in the same conditions.”

This system of supply of foreign workers in the Gulf countries – called sponsorship and which subordinates foreign workers to an individual employer or sponsor or master – of international human rights organizations It is under severe criticism from the side because under it all the powers are with the employer while the workers are completely at the mercy of the employer.

Is Pakistani law asleep?

But in fact the exploitation of workers begins even before they reach abroad.
Because they have no direct contact with companies that require workers, they rely on recruiting agencies to get the job. According to Pakistani law, only licensed recruiting agencies can currently send workers abroad. These agencies cannot charge more than Rs 6,000 per worker.

If people sent abroad have a complaint against these licensed agencies, it is very likely that their complaint will reach the government. News of investigations and action against such agencies also frequently appears in the news media.

There are about 3,000 of these agencies, but there is also a large network of unlicensed agents in Pakistan who take advantage of the lack of knowledge or ignorance of those who want to go abroad. It charges a hefty fee and does not provide them with accurate information about working conditions.

Workers are housed in camps where eight or nine people live in one room

One of the main reasons for the network’s existence is that licensed agencies are based in most major cities. It is not financially profitable for them to open offices in small towns, so workers from rural areas who want to go abroad are forced to contact agents around them.
These agents do not operate under any rules but are often informally affiliated with recruitment agencies. Sometimes they also have a direct relationship with the sponsor or owner abroad. These agents are difficult to catch and prosecute because most of them are working without an office. Similarly, the promises they make to the workers have no written record, so it is impossible to implement them.

However, the International Labor Organization (ILO) says the Pakistani government could have protected the rights of these workers if it had adopted a policy introduced by the ILO ten years ago.

Munawar Sultana works in Islamabad as the ILO’s National Project Coordinator. In a phone interview, she says that if the policy had been implemented, employment contracts would have been clearer and more transparent, and the incidence of fraud or pressure on workers would have been reduced.

This policy allows workers to keep their identity and travel documents in their possession so that they can return to Pakistan from abroad whenever they want. It also gives them the freedom to quit their jobs and change employers, as well as ways to prevent their exploitation and access to free and cheap resolution of disputes.

Workers in the Gulf states are exploited by employers because of their ignorance of the rules and regulations. 

In the absence of this policy, Pakistan has made an arrangement from which hardly any worker can benefit. Under it, all aspiring job seekers are required to report to the Bureau of Immigration and Overseas Employment, an agency run by the federal government, so that they can travel abroad to protect their rights and Find out how to file your complaint.

In an interview with, Muzammil Barlas, an official of the organization, said that his organization has offices in seven different cities where people can easily get all the information. He also says that people who go abroad for work are exploited because they themselves do not follow the rules and regulations.

But illiterate and semi-literate laborers living in remote rural areas usually do not find it easy to reach government offices and talk to officials there. So they contact the agent who prepares all the paperwork and delivers it to their home. Most of them are unaware that the government has made any laws in this regard and whether there are any government agencies that can help them in any way.