x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Workers pay restaurants to use their kitchens

Municipality's restrictions are leaving many people struggling to find an affordable meal each day.

DUBAI // Banned from cooking in their accommodations after a fire that gutted an onion and potato warehouse, workers at Al Aweer fruits and vegetable market have resorted to paying restaurants to let them use their kitchens. The municipality has enforced a ban on cooking in the market, which includes the quarters of more than 7,000 workers, leaving them struggling to find an affordable meal each day.

The curb on cooking followed a fire last month that burnt down 24 shops and destroyed tons of goods. Although an investigation into the cause of the fire continues, traders believe it may have been triggered by cooking done in the warehouse. Last week, municipality officials confiscated several gas cylinders and stoves from the rooms of workers. That left the workers with limited options for their meals.

"There is too much rush in all the restaurants," said M Kutty. "We can't waste an hour in a restaurant in between work. Most of us are missing lunch. "Sometimes we pay restaurants to let us cook in their kitchen. If we get an hour, we can cook food that would last us for a couple of days." Workers said municipality officers were also blocking food parcels from being brought into the accommodations from restaurants on mini-vans, as it is illegal to sell such packets in the market.

Large queues were seen over the last few days in front of trucks and vans selling food near the market. Municipality officials are expected to meet traders today to seek a solution to the problem. "Companies are responsible for the wellness of the workers, and this should be their priority," said Khalifa Hareb, the director of assets management department at Dubai Municipality, which is in charge of the market. "We will ask the companies to provide food to the workers."

The municipality maintained that cooking had always been illegal at the warehouse and the enforcement was part of its effort to improve fire safety. Al Aweer is one of the largest storage facilities in the emirate, with hundreds of cargo trucks arriving each day with fresh foodstuffs. Most of the workers are from India, Pakistan or Bangladesh and their jobs include driving, loading and unloading or doing odd jobs. They earn about Dh20 to Dh30 per day.

Traders said they were concerned about the decision to ban cooking and worried about the health of their staff. "There is no solution to the problem yet, but we have expressed our concerns to the authorities," said one trader, who asked that his name not be used. pmenon@thenational.ae