x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Clean up practices in labour camps

Officials must act to prevent further health and fire hazards, by increasing inspections of facilities and conducting regular pest-control operations.

On Friday, when a fire erupted at a labour camp in Al Gharbia, 280 rooms were destroyed and 900 workers lost their belongings. Fortunately, no one was hurt. Also this week, The National reported that kitchen conditions were grossly unhygienic in another camp in Jebel Ali Industrial Area (where 600 workers live in six such camps). It is a shame that these conditions still persist despite the positive examples set by some other labour camps that have cleaned up their act.

Any residence, be it a labour camp or a villa, that is swarming with insects, thousands of cockroach eggs, and has dirty walls and sticky floors is unacceptable. "There is no water filter or water meter," noted Sven Mostegl, a food consultant, who inspected the camp. "There is no hand disinfectant and the sinks used to clean the plates are full of leftover food dumped by labourers."

About 100 workers live at the camp and, as Mr Mostegl said, the conditions are a recipe for food poisoning and sickness; it is simply a disaster waiting to happen.

Although the two camps are more than 300 kilometres away from each other, the situations couldn't be more related. Poor kitchens often push people to stay in crowded rooms to cook their own meals or improve the prepared ones, which can lead to fire hazards. In the camps, residents often use electric cookers, putting themselves and those living in the camp in danger. And cooking inside rooms invites insects and mice.

Such conditions are not uncommon; last year, Dubai Municipality found that almost one out of every five camps was infested with rats and other pests. In a court case we reported last year, seven workers were charged with storming their camp restaurant and causing Dh160,000 worth of damage in protest of "filthy" living conditions and "improper food".

Labour officials in that case said insects were a "natural" issue because the camp was in the desert. If camp officials can be selective about hygienic conditions, it is hard to expect that others critical areas will be attended to, including basic health and safety.

Labour officials and authorities must urgently act to prevent further health and fire hazards, including increased inspections of facilities and regular pest-control operations.