x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

New housing for labourers raises living standards

As many as 300,000 workers will have new homes by the end of the year in the largest relocation of labour in the country's history, the man in charge of the project has said.

Mohamed Hasan al Qemzi says dedicated housing would mean better living conditions for labourers.
Mohamed Hasan al Qemzi says dedicated housing would mean better living conditions for labourers.

ABU DHABI // As many as 300,000 workers will have new homes by the end of the year in the largest relocation of labour in the country's history, the man in charge of the project said yesterday. "We are still learning," Mohamed Hasan al Qemzi said. "We haven't perfected it all yet, but we are moving in the right direction."

Mr al Qemzi - chief executive of ZonesCorp, the Government-backed agency in charge of developing areas dedicated to housing workers - said the move would result in better housing and living conditions for the men. For the past three years Mr al Qemzi has been gathering information to implement the plan; already, more than 100,000 workers have moved from Mohammed bin Zayed City to new housing off Abu Dhabi island.

"The whole idea came out in late 2007," Mr al Qemzi said. "There was a boom, especially in construction. At that time, how the workers lived was no longer acceptable." Mr al Qemzi's team travelled to a number of countries, including Singapore, to learn how to build sustainable living environmenta for foreign workers. "We learnt how they have done it," he said. "When you bring construction labour in, you have to make sure how and where they are going to sleep, so that the next morning, when they wake up, they can contribute. These things impact their performance."

Moving the men from labour camps to multi-storey housing developments complete with malls, hospitals, and playgrounds is a much-needed revision of standards, Mr al Qemzi said. By the end of this year, three new developments, including Al Hamim, between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and Al Mafraq, outside Mussaffah, will house workers. The zones were assigned by the Urban Planning Council (UPC). "No one just threw a stone out there," Mr al Qemzi. "Studies have been done."

He said the Urban Planning Concil, Abu Dhabi Municipality and his organisation began working on the project in 2007. The move was originally slated to begin in July of last year, but companies complained to the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Industry that they could not afford to pay higher expenses to house their labourers. The Abu Dhabi Municipality has since told contractors to shift their workers to the newly built complexes by September 17.

Mr al Qemzi said some of the delays were due to the facilities not being ready in time. "Some developments needed fine-tuning," he said. Contractors and workers have also complained about the distance they have to travel, with workers fearing their managers will dock their pay for transportation charges. He said contractors were obligated to pay for transportation, hire out the duty to a third party or negotiate a deal with the developers of the residences to provide transportation.

"You have brought them here - if you don't care of them, that is wrong," Mr al Qezmi said of contractors who are reluctant to move their workers. Those who fail to comply will face penalties, such as denial of licenses for new recruits. Mr al Qemzi has also fielded complaints from companies about the cost of the new locations. He said the Executive Council decided that the operators of the new labour cities could charge Dh390 per worker, a fee that includes security, housekeeping and essentials such furniture. Apart from that, developers and contractors could negotiate other services such as catering, as none of the new locations allow workers to cook in their rooms, an attempt to prevent fires.

He has also heard of residential areas not willing to house labourers from companies with fewer than 100 workers on their payrolls. "That is totally unacceptable," Mr al Qemzi said. "Anyone who has such complaints, come to me." sbhattacharya@thenational.ae