x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Build new labour camps into society

New labour camps with improved living conditions for workers are a step forward not only for residents, but for the whole country.

Unless you are one of the 200,000 or so residents in the "labourer cities" of Abu Dhabi emirate, you probably don't often have occasion to think much about these places.

But it is welcome news for the whole society, not only for workers, that Abu Dhabi is inaugurating a new generation of such facilities, more commonly called labour camps. As each one opens, it is a step towards improving the quality of life for workers who are so vital to the economy and country's development.

Land was set aside in 2005 for 23 of these developments, in industrial zones of Abu Dhabi and Al Ain. The one that opened last month in Al Ain, for example, can house over 5,500 people now, and will have housing for 10,000 when fully finished.

When all the camps are completed, they will have space to accommodate 385,000 workers, far more than are currently housed in smaller, older camps - another example of the plan for growth in the coming years.

And numbers are not the whole story. The new labour accommodations will offer better facilities: mosques, markets, medical services, sports fields, shops, social centres, internet access and more.

This progressive approach is justified several ways: first, on the basis that everybody deserves better than to be merely warehoused; and second, because this is sound HR policy. Workers provided with decent facilities will be less subject to crime, mentally and physically healthier, and ultimately more productive. This is in line with the national commitment to improve conditions for workers.

Those same motives also open the way to other benefits for expatriate labourers. While modern, well-policed, well-managed residential areas are essential, they are just a start.

These men, however frugally they live, need access to towns and activities. That requires bus services, and opportunities to take advantage of some of what urban areas have to offer.

Here, conflicting expectations have become an issue. As The National reported last week, some parts of the city are virtual "no-go" zones for labourers where they are made to feel uncomfortable or unwanted. To a degree, this cannot be avoided. In some cases, groups of single men do act inappropriately around women and families, who also need to be protected. But labourers are an integral part of society, and should be treated as such.