x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

More effort to allay fear in labour camp

Clear, open communication might have prevented the escalation of a situation at a remote labour camp

Word of mouth is a powerful thing, but sometimes the truth can get lost in translation. This seems to be what happened at Al Ruwais labour camp over the weekend, when the deaths of two men triggered a "rampage" that caused extensive damage.

Latief Ul Haq Kazmi, the counsel for labour at the Bangladesh Embassy in Abu Dhabi who visited the Systems Construct site on Sunday, said the situation got out of hand after two workers died within three days, one of them not long after eating at the staff canteen. Others believed the men had died of food poisoning, word of their suspicions spread among the 8,000 workers and labourers "went on a rampage, ransacking and looting the canteen".

Up to 10 vehicles, plus computers and furniture were reportedly damaged during the unrest, which continued for 24 hours from Friday night.

Qaisar Al Husssain, the human resources manager for Systems Construct, said the two deaths were caused by cardiac arrest. About 30 other labourers were taken to Adnoc hospital, but none were found to have symptoms of food poisoning. Mr Al Husssain said full medical reports would be released after the completion of an Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority investigation into the two deaths and the reasons why the other men were taken to hospital.

What bears particular scrutiny in any inquiry is the nature of the panic, apparently based on misinformation, that swept the camp - and beyond. One tweet on Saturday put the number of deaths at six, though the news story to which it linked has now been deleted from the internet. We know Twitter is often unreliable, but in this case its very inaccuracy mirrored how rumour had taken hold at the camp.

Work camps like Al Ruwais are unlike other communities. They are often very remote - in this case 250 kilometres from the capital - there is a huge gender imbalance, they thrust people of different backgrounds together, and they lack the range of social diversions available in the city.

It would seem that these men also lacked timely and accurate information about what was going on around them, thus heightening their concerns following the deaths of two colleagues.

Whatever the other causes of the incident, it is not a stretch to think that clear, open communication might have prevented its escalation.