x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Labour camps face overhaul

Saqr Ghobash Saeed Ghobash, the Minister of Labour, takes a tour of Aldar's Yas Island labour camp, which he has praised for its conditions.
Saqr Ghobash Saeed Ghobash, the Minister of Labour, takes a tour of Aldar's Yas Island labour camp, which he has praised for its conditions.

ABU DHABI // Squalid labour camps are to be cleaned up with the introduction of national standards, spot checks and possibly fines, the Minister of Labour announced yesterday, in a new effort to force employers into improving their labour record. Saqr Ghobash Saeed Ghobash promised the Government would no longer tolerate the excuses of developers who ignore the poor living conditions of their workers.

"We will be patient and give time for different companies to move the situation forward and to make sure they are at the upper level. After this time, we will start implementing measures we believe are fair. "There are no more excuses for the private sector to not meet these standards." Once new regulations are announced, developers failing to meet the standards would face sanctions by the Ministry of Labour that could include fines or closure, although Mr Ghobash said it was too soon to announce what each level of punishment would be.

He warned offenders that ministry officials would be paying unannounced visits to check on conditions. However, he did not give a specific date for when the new national standards would be implemented. On a visit to Yas Island yesterday, Mr Ghobash said labour camps today were in a far better condition than they were in the past, thanks in part to Government action. However, "there are a few things that are still not how the ministry would like, but that is under discussion with the developers.

"Hopefully, this picture will go away and a standard can be imposed so we can move forward with a positive picture of what the UAE is all about." Mr Ghobash made the comments while visiting a labour camp for the employees of Aldar, which he praised as a perfect example for other developers. The camp includes sporting facilities, lavatories and free food at meal times. Mr Ghobash stressed yesterday that new standards would be put into practice for all labour camps.

The Human Rights Practices Report, released by the US State Department last year, criticised the UAE in relation to circumstances in which "low-skilled employees were? provided with substandard living conditions, including overcrowded apartments or lodging in unsafe and unhygienic 'labour camps' often lacking electricity, potable water, and adequate cooking and bathing facilities". Since then, several new camps have opened with proper cooking facilities, sanitation, air-conditioning and leisure facilities, and the number of inspectors with the Ministry of Labour has increased. The minister said that more would be done, as he visited the workers building the Yas Marina Formula One circuit, the Ferrari World theme park, a golf course and a water park.

"Standards are under development and certain measures have already been taken against those who have not complied," he said. "Hopefully we will catch those who do not implement what is required, otherwise, when the ministry implements its rules, measures will be taken against those who do not comply with our standards." Still, he said, the goal is to encourage businesses to meet the standards on their own accord.

"Hopefully the ministry will never have to use them, and we expect the private sector to comply and avoid this happening." His comments coincided with a protest by workers in Musaffah last night. More than 500 workers from the construction and engineering company ETA gathered outside their housing quarters claiming they were unhappy with their salaries and their lack of kitchens. "We have to rely on the canteens and other places for food since we are not allowed to cook in our buildings," said one worker. "As a result, we spend more than Dh300 a month on paying for food."

Supervisors and managers of the company said they had been trying to negotiate with the workers all day. "They want to prepare their own food in order to save money, but it goes against the health and safety regulations of the buildings," said AK Singh, head of human resources for ETA. "We cannot break the rules but we are trying to find solutions to their grievances." * With additional reporting by Suryatapa Bhattacharya