ABU DHABI // Calm returned to a labour camp yesterday after a weekend in which panicking workers who thought they had eaten contaminated food ransacked their canteen.
The panic followed the death of two labourers from cardiac arrest, which their colleagues at Al Ruwais labour camp wrongly attributed to food poisoning.
The Systems Construct workers caused "a huge amount" of damage, said Latief Ul Haq Kazmi, counsel for labour at the Bangladesh Embassy in Abu Dhabi, who visited the site yesterday.
"The problem started on Friday night, after two workers died. This created unrest that continued until Saturday evening," he said.
"The labourers thought the men died from food poisoning and went on a rampage, ransacking and looting the canteen and the accommodation of the site engineer."
Up to 10 vehicles were damaged, including cars and construction vehicles, as well as computers and some furniture.
The camp, about 250 kilometres from the capital, houses about 8,000 men of different nationalities including Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis, half employed by Systems Construct and the rest by a different sub-contracting company.
"Two deaths occurred over three days in our Al Ruwais camp, which the doctors said was a natural case of cardiac arrest," said Qaisar Al Hussain, System Construct's human resources manager.
One man died in his room at the camp after he had eaten in the canteen. He was talking on the phone when he collapsed.
"He collapsed on the bed and was rushed to hospital," said Mr Kazmi. "As he died after eating, everyone started blaming the food and got angry. It created a panic among the men.
"Workers said they had previously complained about the quality of food in the canteen and raised the issue with the management a number of times."
Mr Hussain said that after the deaths about 30 labourers went to Adnoc Hospital for a check-up, and food poisoning was ruled out by doctors.
Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority said an investigation into the deaths continues, as well as what caused the rush of workers to hospital.
Mr Al Hussain said full medical reports would be released when the investigation was complete, and his company was co-operating with the Ministry of Labour and police.
"Everything is under investigation," he said.
The catering company at the camp said service had resumed. "We are serving food there and they are eating," said Mohammed Reyas, human resources director for the Fathima Group, which owns and operates the canteen and attached grocery.