x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Seven deny damaging labour camp in protest

Disturbance followed complaints about pests and poor food.

ABU DHABI // Seven labourers incited nearly 1,000 colleagues to protest against living conditions in their labour camp, causing Dh160,000 worth of damage, prosecutors claimed yesterday.

The defendants - five Pakistanis, an Afghan and a Bengali - appeared yesterday before the Abu Dhabi Criminal Court of First Instance charged with causing damage to property. Prosecutors said the men rallied others in the camp, which was not named in court, to protest against what they called "filthy" facilities and "improper" food.

Prosecutors said the labourers stormed the camp restaurant on January 16, 2011, destroyed parts of it and took all the food and "everything they found there". A representative from the unidentified camp, which holds 5,000 workers, said it would cost Dh160,000 to repair the damage.

The labourers testified yesterday they had told camp officials their rooms were infested with insects and mice.

"The camp is in the desert, so of course we would be more subject to insects and mice, but we always try to keep it as clean as possible," the representative told the court. "But they do not help us in that. They, in fact, make the situation worse by cooking inside their rooms instead of just using the restaurant."

He said the camp, in compliance with labour laws, prevented residents from keeping electric portable cookers in their rooms. But the labourers said that the food served in the camp's restaurants was of poor quality and that the men needed to add flavour in their rooms.

"Cooking inside the rooms is the reason why they have insects and mice," the representative said. "We tried to explain to them the laws that we have to abide by, but they did not understand. It is forbidden for them to have the cookers inside and it is dangerous too."

Chief Justice Saeed Abdul Baseer asked the camp representative why they had chosen those particular seven people when 1,000 were involved in the damage.

The answer was: "I saw some of them talking to labourers and inciting them to start the riot, and witnesses pointed to the other ones."

The man added that the camp housed labourers from many countries - each group preferring different food - which made it difficult to "satisfy all tastes".

"We believe they had planned the riot before, because they started it before we even served the food," he said. "They took even the food which they claimed they did not like."

The defendants, who were not represented by a lawyer, denied inciting others to start a riot. One testified he was not even in the camp at the time.

The judges will issue their verdict on March 14.

hhassan@thenational.ae