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Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Still Stalled, as Monitoring Report is Issued on Saadiyat Island Labor Conditions

PricewaterhouseCoopers’ (PwC’s) 4th annual monitoring report on labor conditions on Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island, recently released by the Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC) of the United Arab Emirates’ capital, gives a mixed picture of progress and continued concerns. The latter included a June 8 worker fatality, which occurred “as a result of a construction accident” at the Louvre Abu Dhabi‘s project site. 


Whether for this or other reasons, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi is still nothing more than “1,400 concrete piles [that] have sat untouched since they were completed in 2011, and a contractor is yet to be selected,” according Nick Leech‘s article on the status of that project, which appeared on Nov. 17 in The National, the English-language Abu Dhabi newspaper.

A spokesperson for the Guggenheim told me this on Tuesday:

There is no construction on the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, and TDIC has not yet awarded a contract. We remain fully committed to the project.

Compliance with TDIC’s Employment Practices Policy has improved from conditions discussed in the previous report, according to PwC’s latest findings: 75% of surveyed residents in the Saadiyat Accommodation Village (SAV) complex said that they were “extremely satisfied” or “satisfied” with the quality of SAV’s housing and facilities.

Photo of happy workers from TDIC's latest Employment Practices Policy Compliance Monitoring Report

Photo of workers in TDIC’s latest “Employment Practices Policy Compliance Monitoring Report”

The press release about PwC’s report, issued on Tuesday by TDIC, focuses primarily on the positives:

In 2015, of the 880 workers interviewed: 100% are in possession of medical insurance and have access to on-site medical care. 100% are in possession of their passports or had deposited them with employers willingly for safekeeping. 100% of long-term workers employed on Saadiyat projects (defined as those employed for 30 days or longer) are residing in the SAV.

Facilities within the SAV now include door-to-door laundry services, daily cleaning of rooms, and enhanced recreational and sporting facilities. 99% of workers had signed a Site Assignment Agreement (SAA) in their native languages providing full details of remuneration and working conditions.

On the downside (not included in the press release), a number if instances of non-compliance with safety standards were observed: “These included eight workers who were conducting construction related activities without wearing the required Personal Protective Equipment in the presence of their Supervisors, unsafe entry and exit into the construction site area and workers smoking near flammable materials.”

The PwC report did not elaborate on the circumstances of the worker fatality at the site of the Jean Nouvel-designed Louvre Abu Dhabi, but did say that “under UAE Labor Law, the family of a deceased worker is entitled to two years’ basic pay, and additional sums determined following a court ruling on the root cause of the accident.”

The press release acknowledged that PwC had again “found instances of workers paying recruitment fees in their home countries [sizable amounts charged to workers by agents who recruit the project’s migrant workers]….TDIC took firm measures against violators, including the imposition of financial penalties and the obligation of those contractors to reimburse the affected workers….Nevertheless, the [PwC] report noted once again that the full resolution of the recruitment and relocation cost issue is beyond TDIC’s direct influence and requires collaboration between relevant entities.”

The revised Employment Practices Policy, issued last August, includes some strengthened provisions regarding recruitment fees (see pp. 12-14), a sticking point that Richard Armstrong, the Guggenheim’s director, once described as “a very complex foreign policy question between governments.”

As quoted in November by The National‘s Leech, Armstrong said that “there is new leadership at both TCA [Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority] and TDIC, we have had fruitful meetings and we feel re-energized about the prospects.”

For now, though, as Leech reported, “Somewhere in a free port in Europe, locked inside a secure, state-of-the-art, climate-controlled storage facility” are almost 240 modern and contemporary artworks, awaiting installation in the “yet-to-be built Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.”

Rendering of planned Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Abu Dhabi

Model of planned Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Abu Dhabi

an ArtsJournal blog