x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Sharjah counts cost of power cuts

About 200 construction workers go on strike as the emirate's power cuts and brownouts continue into their fourth week.

Jamal Uddain, a salesman, centre, attends to customers without power supply at his auto spare parts shop in Sharjah's Industrial Area 1.
Jamal Uddain, a salesman, centre, attends to customers without power supply at his auto spare parts shop in Sharjah's Industrial Area 1.

SHARJAH // About 200 construction workers went on strike yesterday as the emirate's power cuts and brownouts continued into their fourth week. The staff employed by the Karam Construction Company abandoned work for four hours to protest against conditions at their accommodation in the Sajja industrial area, which has been without electrical lighting or air conditioning for five days. Meanwhile, businesses in the emirate said the power cuts were doing huge damage to their companies. Some said they were losing up to Dh20,000 (US$5,400) a day and having to return significant quantities of spoilt food. Worse, some feared that customers forced to look elsewhere might not return when the power does. The Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority (Sewa) declined to comment yesterday. Last week it said the problems had been due to high summer demand but were nearly resolved. The striking workers arrived at their company's offices in Sharjah Industrial Area 1 at 8am and stayed there until being dispersed by police at midday. A spokesman for the company told The National that the power outages were beyond its control. "We have tried to explain to them that this is a problem everywhere in Sharjah," he said. "Sewa is working to restore power supply very soon." Sharjah Police also refused to comment on the incident. It was the first time that workers have staged a demonstration in response to the power problems that have affected the emirate for about a month now. The workers said most parts of the Sajja Industrial Area, which houses most of the emirate's labourer accommodation, had been entirely without power for about a week. Mohammed Sharif, one of the workers who took part in the strike, said they had no power supply at all between Tuesday and Saturday. Yesterday morning, the power came on for about two hours before going off again. "We are poor people, we work in the scorching sun on buildings while fasting and at night we go and sleep in the dark without electricity," he said. Mr Sharif said most of the workers had taken to sleeping outdoors, with many sleeping on mattresses on verandas, as it was cooler than staying indoors. Another worker, Habib, said they were struggling to have their late-night meals as they could not cook for themselves. "Imagine. It's Ramadan and we can't make our own food at night. All along we made our own food, it's cheaper than buying, but now we have to break fast with a few handouts from Sharjah charity and then buy some other food at night." Habib said that in the past week alone he had spent about Dh200 on food and loaned a friend Dh150 for food − in total, more than a third of his Dh900 monthly salary. Another worker, Ansar, said they would go on a bigger strike if the electricity was not restored. Wealthier people, he said, "can go in hotels, sleep in their air-conditioned cars or go to relatives − but where can we go?" Yesterday, although some parts of Sharjah's industrial area had power, there were still blackouts from 8am in Industrial Area 4, areas around the cricket stadium, Yarmouk and Samnan. Residents in these areas said they had learnt when to expect power cuts through experience, but had not received any official notices from Sewa. Uche James, a resident of Industrial Area 4, said that learning the usual blackout times helped him plan his iftar. With the power going out between 8am and 5pm, and again from 8.30pm until 1am, he would prepare his iftar before the power went, and then head to a mall during the evening blackout. Businesspeople said they were losing between Dh5,000 and Dh20,000 a day because of the power cuts. Abdul Faris, co-owner of the Faris Sahar Garage in Industrial Area 4, said he was losing up to Dh20,000 for every day without power. "I don't even know why it targets the busy days and working hours, all I can always say is bad luck and go back home," he said. Mr Faris said he was concerned he would lose his regular customers as they would start using garages where the power stayed on and become loyal customers there. Salman Ahmed, an owner of Al Lulu Al Maknooni spare parts shop, said his business was losing about Dh5,000 for every day there was no electricity. "All our machines are not working," he said. "Even the workers get demoralised, working in dark with no electricity." Jallaludin al Ameer, who owns a grocery shop in Industrial Area 1, said about Dh5,000 worth of goods could go bad as a result of having no refrigeration. However, he said, much of this loss would be borne by his suppliers. "This is the good thing with a grocery shop," he said. "We pay for what we have used and whatever goes bad we return it to the suppliers." ykakande@thenational.ae