Many people have been outraged by what happened to my family and I in Dubai.
The purpose of this Blog is to warn others not to deal with a particularly unscrupulous creative company in Dubai, and certainly not to work for them.
The broader vision though is to persuade anyone considering working in Dubai to take a long hard look at what they are signing up for and realise beneath the seemingly glossy veneer, lies a haphazard, half-built never-to-be-finished toppling cankerous folly built on greed, lies and corruption.
This message will not self-destruct; Dubai will however censor the page as soon as it attracts enough attention. But all the censorship in the world won't halt Dubai’s ongoing self destruction.
The original post is below. It describes just how easy it is to be lured to Dubai then find you have little or no human rights and have become vulnerable to a system where lending is rife but debt is, in effect, illegal. Where passports are held illegally and entire ethnic groups regarded as sub-human slaves, and how thousands of expatriates have been forced to flee or face jail.
'Ominous' Integrated Creative Consultancy
I work in the creative industry. A while ago I was approached and offered a job with a creative agency, a friend I had worked with in another nuthouse recommended me. I met with the MD – one of the most corpulent land mammals I have ever circumnavigated. I noted that his fingers had grown so fat around his wedding ring that only a fire crew could possibly remove it. I also met with the owner of the ‘international group of companies’ a tall pale worried looking man with beady eyes and an odd inverted smile, a sort Beaker from the Muppets crossed with Vlad the Impaler but with a distinctly more malicious slant. When my wife asked after the interview, I described his demeanour as that of an aristocratic vampire. I had my doubts about the whole thing.
What’s to lose?
Our next meeting was when they offered me a senior post, not in the UK but Dubai with a nice tax-free salary and relocation package. A thrilling development you might think. At that point I had never set foot outside of Europe never mind far-flung, exotic Arabia. So they offered to fly us over for a look around and some time to make up our minds. When we arrived they put us up in an impressive 5 star serviced apartment, whisked us around all the supposed glitz of Dubai – it’s hard not to see things as nothing more than a haphazard building site on a steroidal scale. But the beach club and the spacious apartments and all the other shiny things they dangled in front of us sadly had us mesmerised. We were whirled round for a week and shown all the good bits I guess. We’re not greedy people my wife and I, we have a modest home in the UK, I had a little sports car that I loved and we had a VW Golf for sensible purposes like doing the shopping and taking our little boy to and from the nursery he loved, simple stuff. To be fair we have never been good with money – I’ve always been paid reasonably well but we had no savings or pension. Dubai seemed like a chance to enjoy a warmer clime and maybe squirrel a bit away. Seemed like fun too… what’s to lose we thought.
So we discussed things, got excited and I quit my job and moved out leaving my wife to tart up our wee house with a view to selling it and getting a place in Dubai – not in the hope of making a killing on the property market but partly because we wanted to put down some roots there and more so because the rents are just crazy – 30 grand a year for a modest two bedroom apartment.
After a few weeks in my new job it became clear they had an entirely ruthless if not heartless employment policy “one in one out” they would sneer at management meetings. It turned out my predecessor had been lured in, moved his family from the US sold his house and set about his new job. For three months it was his new job. Then they sacked him, gave him one week’s pay and basically told him to get lost, this was a week or so before I arrived, I had no idea at that point it was to make way for me I thought he was just a member of staff that was not performing and knew little about it. For the first six months I was busy, doing well whipping my small department into shape. I loved the sunshine, the heat and all the strange and exotic people. But the stories of hiring and dumping people continued – get another job you might say. Not that easy in Dubai, aside from complicated visa issues I looked more closely at my contract. It seemed I would have to pay back all flights freight and allowances if I left before the first year. Allowances made up nearly a third of my total pay. This is a hangover from when companies were expected to house expats – then the market went stupid so the law was simply changed so that an inadequate amount of money could be offered as an ‘allowance’ to rent a place… neat and tidy, but then things are always made neat and tidy for employers in Dubai – they even manipulate public holidays to fall on weekends. Oh and if you take a couple of weeks off the weekends come out of your holiday allowance too… yeah, I know!
Back home my wife was struggling with builders and a spectacularly effete man who claimed to be both married (to a woman who looked suspiciously old enough to be his mother) and a 'professional interior designer' but in reality was simply the worlds least handyman, cack-handed painter and bodge it decorator and in my humble opinion a raving closet queen. The items supposed to be shrouded from paint seemed to have more Apple White on them than the walls. Holes were burned in carpets – half my tools went missing or were spattered with paint or simply broken. After months of being apart for the first time in almost 20 years together my wife and I realised we were not going to sell the place. The market had crashed – this at the time seemed like a massive setback. In hindsight it is the BEST thing that ever happened to us.
Just prior to Christmas there were murmurs at a management meeting that things were not going well. The attitude was ‘fuck it if we have to get rid of some of them we will’. I was asked to draw up a list of whom I could afford to lose from my small tight knit team who I had grown to love, and whom after recent developments with their support, help and encouragement, I have realised respected me greatly. Naturally this 'list' was upsetting, I didn’t want to lose anyone. We weren’t actually losing money - we had just stopped making it. The owner is loaded but miserable, every penny is a prisoner - he doesn't do cars or yachts or anything it would seem but worry about the thought of losing a few quid when he has millions. A joyless, charmless man. So I went to my boss and said “listen mate, you're just about to have my wife and child move out of our home, send all our possessions over here and rent our place out – should I be really doing this?” I was confidently assured that we needed a ‘core management team’ to run the business and not to worry at all. So I went home for Christmas, then packed everything up and came back to Dubai with my family in January. About a week or so later I was told not to get a flat as I was up for redundancy. They tried to cut my salary and when I refused so they whacked the rent up in the company flat to about 2k a month (which was of course illegal). The company flat is an impersonal badly furnished halfway house intended to give new recruits a chance to find their feet. In the end I was there ten miserable months.
So one day they dumped around a third of the workforce, just like that, having them sign papers on the spot while they were still shell shocked – papers that signed all their rights away. They knew one bloke had just borrowed the money to pay an entire years rent - not uncommon in Dubai. They noted he 'might be a bit pissed off'. I now know what 'callous' means
It soon became apparent Dubai is a miserable place to live. We’re simply not meant to be there – it’s a desert maintained by armies of Indian slaves to provide a thin veneer of greenery at catastrophic cost to the environment. The tax-free thing in Dubai is a smoke and mirrors piece of chicanery, a lie – everything costs a fortune. The produce in the supermarkets is generally awful and you need a licence to buy a bottle of wine from a few special shops that look like 70’s illegal bookies from the outside. Buying pork is a laugh - they have special back shop areas that have signs 'Pork - no Muslims' you'd think they would remember that aspect of their faith - "well bugger me (actually that’s out too) if I haven’t blundered in here and bought a sausage". You’ll also pay 3 times the going rate in the UK for your plonk then there is 30% municipality tax. There are stealth taxes on many things. In truth it costs an utter fortune to live there. Everything requires some sort of permit and they all cost money – lots of it. It became evident that even on a decent ‘tax- free’ salary my wife was going to have to work. This was not the plan – she does not keep very well and is often in a lot of pain from which she rarely complains.
Dubai also has what is basically legalised slavery – all those Indian construction workers toiling in the 45+ heat are conned into selling their land or taking loans to pay for their transit to ‘dream jobs’ in Dubai. As soon as they arrive blinking in sunlight that makes India seem somewhat Scandinavian they are forced to sign new contracts in Arabic and their passports are taken – illegally of course. They are housed in abject sewer ridden squalor; 'concentration camp' would not be an unfair an assessment. It then takes on average 4 years paying back loans to the construction worker supply agencies before they even start to earn money. They get paid a few dollars a day for 12-hour days 6 days a week. It is not uncommon for them to throw themselves in front of cars – if it is your car you face jail and have to pay up to 120K in ‘blood money’ to their family back home in India. Like I say truly medieval laws. If an Emirate driver hits you, and fuck me are they bad drivers – 120 mile an hour undertaking on the hard shoulder, happens every day – however its your fault regardless – basically you are not local so you shouldn’t be there so the fact you are means you caused the accident. Which of course also means jail for you.
Almost everyone in Dubai has a ‘maid’ this is in effect some poor Filipino girl with kids of her own back home she sees for maybe 3 weeks a year if she is lucky. Generally a maid is on call 24 hours a day to look after unruly fat brats. To cook, clean, shop (if they are allowed out alone, which is very unusual). They usually have tiny rooms with a bed and not much else. They are not allowed friends or relationships of any kind and are often have a poor diet and no access to phone or Internet to contact their family. One local looked appalled when she told me her maid had asked to use the computer to mail her family “I mean I give her 1 day off a month and her own shampoo” was her response. Taxi drivers are in the same boat – most work 12-hour shifts 7 days a week to send home money to families they see for a few weeks a year. As a result they are tired and cranky – they drive like nutters as they are paid by mileage not meter time.
Our New Home
So we lived under constant pressure for months with the ever present threat of redundancy, then on one day I was told all was well and to get a place of my own. Shortly afterwards they then moved a well meaning but very loud, brash young lad from the UK into the flat. This is illegal in Dubai. You can’t share a flat in Dubai with someone who is not a blood relative – my wife could have been carted off for adultery or I could have been accused of homosexuality – both hugely illegal. The laws in Dubai are from the dark ages. So we were even further encouraged to find a place. We found a lovely little villa, which due to the property crash was now just within our reach. As I didn’t have a chequebook I asked my boss for a company cheque for the deposit and to deduct it from my salary – “no problem mate, we’re here to help”. We were so excited – our own place at last after almost a year of living either apart or in some crappy halfway house. We unpacked all our stuff that had been in storage for months (at no small cost). Aside from our TV, hi-fi, books, DVD’s furniture and all the little personal items you accrue over 20 years we also had all our little boys toys, a small mountain of them, it seemed half of the 80 odd boxes unpacked were marked ‘toys’. He hadn’t seen them for six months. Some were still wrapped as Christmas presents. He was over the moon running around with Woody from Toy Story and what seemed like the entire cast of the Disney movie 'Cars'. For the first time in almost a year we felt like a family together at home again. My wife bumped into the owner in the café downstairs from my office “Hi! How are you, how are you settling” in he beamed.
Two days later I was called into the boardroom “Bad news. We’re laying you off, the company is going in a different direction, we’ll pay for your freight back and your flights and give you a months notice - sign this”
My mouth went dry my throat closed over. I was thought I was going to choke. “But I have just moved into a villa – you know that you helped us! I’ve just got all our stuff out of storage.” To say I was gripped with panic would be an understatement. I was close to tears but was too flooded with adrenalin, my fingers went numb and I started to shake. They just shrugged. “It’s a business decision, that’s it, you can leave today, we want your phone and laptop now”
I was told the decision had only been made the previous evening. UTTER BULLSHIT. It turned out they had some other person to take my place (as is their way) and that the whole moving the bloke into the flat was to force us out, the help to get our own place only made it easier to dump us. You can’t just evict a family from company accommodation easily – not even in Dubai. However employment law is very erratic and staggeringly vague. To be perfectly honest there are no real binding laws – the head bloke wakes up in the morning waves his arm and there you are, a new law, as Tommy would say: “Just like that”.
So after not even ONE week in our new villa after almost a year in their crap flat and half our stuff still in boxes, except of course all our wee boys toys, and all my big boys toys – home cinema system set up, PS3, broadband and cable hooked up all that palaver. There we were having the same movers pack it all up again less than a week later. All 97 itemised boxes.
The following day I went to sign the final severance papers – I knew I was due three months compensation but did not have the money or the time to fight this through the courts. So I simply expected a month’s salary and our flights and freight home. The legal system in Dubai is patchy and disorganised to say the least, there is also a lot of ‘who you know’ going on it can take months to resolve a case and visas run out after 30 days unemployment. We have a friend who is an employment lawyer out there. It work’s like this: when you lose your job the employer is legally required to inform your bank. As soon as that happens they freeze your account and call in all loans credit cards mortgages etc. Pay us the lot right now! If you can’t its simple – you go to straight to jail. Since January 2009 over 4000 cars have been dumped at Dubai airport as a result of this policy
I was told if I wanted my money I would have to surrender our passports so the Visas could be cancelled – ‘should take around 3 days’ I was told. This is not how it is supposed to work. It’s final payment; then Visa cancelled. They gave me a cheque for the cost of the freight and said they would book one-way tickets for my wife and child but I had to stay. They told me that they would also be informing the bank immediately - which would me a major problem for me. Basically they stiffed me on my last months pay and engineered it so that I would have no choice but to run.
We got on a plane the following morning at our own cost – or should I say at our father in laws cost. When we arrived home we checked on the progress of our freight. The bastards had tried to get the cheque back so our goods would not get home. They made all sorts of threats even calling the police. Thankfully the freight company have seen this before and could see what they were up to and calmly told them - "do what you like, we have lawyers too" and cashed the cheque. Because they don't trust each other cheques are as good as cash in the UAE – they have to be, the whole system is so dodgy. But aside from the cost of few grand to return all our wordly possessions to us considering what they owe me - how this benefited them other than sheer malice remains a mystery. After a week of real panic and misery we were told the goods were on a boat on their way back to us.
But aside from compensation i am still I am owed a month’s salary - about 6 or 7 grand UK terms. This is a HUGE amount over here that would keep us going for a good while and get us back on our feet. In Dubai we struggled to live off that each month and pay rent. Seriously - it’s that expensive.
Home (skint but) safe
So here we are back ‘home’ with a few suitcases, 500 quid, camped out in a tiny room. We’re already at each other’s throats. The chances of me seeing my severance pay are as likely as seeing human decency in Dubai. I’ve emailed the boss and pretty much begged for my cash. It would seem silence means ‘get fucked’.
Aside from the fact I need the money to look after my family I cant get over being burned like this – particularly in such a calculated and cruel manner. I have found out they have done this to around 20 or more people in 3 years. I am good at my job. I have many years experience and have produced award-winning work for major brands, chances are you have seen some of it - these guys don’t have a clue so just keep changing staff in the hope it will cover up their hopeless management.
What have I learned from this? Never live in autocracy. Never visit the UAE. At any point you could be in jail. Poppy seed bagel stories may be urban legend, but a woman was jailed then deported merely on the unsubstantiated accusation of adultery by her husband just a few weeks ago. She will never see her 3 young children again. Just because her husband accused her, no evidence just his word and a few concocted emails. Read your contract. Then read it AGAIN.
I have been told the owner of the company actually enjoys sacking people – he gets a kick out of it. Apparently he has a particular tie he wears for such occasions. Given the chance I would cheerfully choke the bastard with it.
Lets say for now the company is called 'Ominous' – if some poor sod searches for their site and stumbles upon my tale then at least it might prevent more lives being ruined.
Even if we could afford to move back into our own home we cant – the family that rent it are just about to have a child – I don’t have the heart to evict them.