x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Dozens of workers injured in mass brawl at Abu Dhabi labour camp

25 workers detained by police after fight over key to kitchen at the Saadiyat Construction Village.

Ashraf Zeitoon, the group corporate communication director at Arabtec, has confirmed that 25 workers are in police custody. Rich-Joseph Facun / The National
Ashraf Zeitoon, the group corporate communication director at Arabtec, has confirmed that 25 workers are in police custody. Rich-Joseph Facun / The National

ABU DHABI // At least 40 workers have been injured and 25 held by police after a fight over the key to a labour camp kitchen.

Ashraf Zeitoon, the group corporate communications director at Arabtec, confirmed that the brawl took place at Saadiyat Construction Village on Tuesday night.

He said the hurt workers were taken to Sheikh Khalifa Medical City and Al Rahba Hospital.

"The men are in police custody for direct involvement, using weapons and threatening the lives of others," Mr Zeitoon said.

Two groups of workers, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis, fought with sticks and rocks at the camp, which houses 2,000 labourers, before police were called to contain the flare-up.

The Pakistanis have since been moved to a camp on Yas Island to separate the two nationalities and prevent a repeat of the violence.

"It began as a squabble for the key to the kitchenette between two workers and one guy beat up the other guy," Mr Zeitoon said.

"It turned into a mass brawl and tens and tens of workers became involved. It was a domino effect.

"As soon as we became aware of it, we addressed it and our security guards contained it.

"We requested for police help due to the sheer numbers and since it was the jurisdiction of the police.

"They were a tremendous help because they have the capability and knowledge to resolve such issues."

The Pakistani and Bangladeshi labourers in the camp, where more than 2,000 workers live, have been separated, with the Pakistanis moved to accommodation on Yas Island.

An Arabtec worker also confirmed that the mass brawl started over a key at the construction village.

"The Pakistani worker asked for the key and this wasn't given to him and then swear words were used," said the worker.

The Pakistani was beaten up, he said, and when his compatriots heard about the fight they retaliated against the Bangladeshis.

"That is how the trouble started," the worker said. "Now they have put the Pakistanis and Bangladeshis in separate accommodation and now it's quiet."

A spokesman confirmed police had responded to the incident at the labour camp.

It is not clear yet what the fall-out will be for labourers involved in the fight.

Sheikh Khalifa Medical City and Al Rahba Hospital said they could not release details of the mens' injuries while a police investigation was continuing.

The fight follows a strike by workers at Arabtec, the UAE's largest construction company, in May over pay.

The workers, mostly from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, refused to leave their accommodation in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and asked management for their Dh350 monthly food allowance to be paid with their salaries, rather than the company providing them with three meals a daily.

The workers earn between Dh650 and Dh1,200 a month.

Police were called to the camps to help resolve the dispute after a foreman was beaten by a group of up to 15 workers. After being told their demands would not be met, most workers decided to return to work.

But the visas of more than 460 construction workers involved in the four-day strike were cancelled and they were sent home.

Mr Zeitoon said the men would be held accountable under UAE law.

"This will be the call of the police and the authorities. It will be according to UAE law," he said.

Arabtec said there were no work stoppages on Abu Dhabi sites after the fighting.

"There were some minor delays but work resumed on Wednesday," Mr Zeitoon said.

The decision to separate the workers came after a request from the Pakistani labourers. No decision has yet been made on similar arrangements across the UAE.

"The management is considering this now, but in certain sites we have close to nine nationalities working together," Mr Zeitoon said.

"It will be easy to do this in some places but in many labour quarters it will not be possible."

A wage demand in January 2011 at Arabtec camps led to a 3,000-man protest. Seventy workers, reported to be the instigators, were later arrested and deported.

jbell@thenational.ae

rtalwar@thenational.ae