x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Yas Island camps held up as models

A labour camp on Abu Dhabi's Yas Island is held up as an example of how employers can get it right.

Saqr Gobash, the UAE Minister of Labour, inspects a kitchen during his visit to Aldar's worker camps on Yas Island.
Saqr Gobash, the UAE Minister of Labour, inspects a kitchen during his visit to Aldar's worker camps on Yas Island.

ABU DHABI // A labour camp on Abu Dhabi's Yas Island is being held up as an example of how employers can get it right. The Government has pledged to crack down on companies that fail to provide adequate housing for their workers, and said there would be no excuse for those who did not meet planned minimum standards. Saqr Ghobash Saeed Ghobash, the Labour Minister, praised the camp on Yas as the model of how to run staff accommodation.

Four complexes each housing 5,000 workers have been built by Aldar, the Abu Dhabi Government-owned development company, and its partners on the island. The occupants are workers building the Yas Marina Formula One circuit, the Ferrari World theme park, a golf course and a water park. Though life on the desert island is not idyllic - "life is work, and my work is my life" said one worker, referring to long shifts - there is an obvious sense of community at the camp.

Not that the term "labour camp" is used by the company. "Operatives' village" is preferred. Labourers can play football or cricket together and eat in any of the several canteens, which cater for the camp's 14 nationalities, with a choice of south Indian, Pakistani and Filipino food, among others. Elsewhere, a mosque and internet centre serve as some distraction to the "operatives", who live four to a cabin, each of which is the size of a large caravan.

Mr Gobash said that the Yas camp was one of the best he had visited across the country. "From what I have seen, all the standards here comply with what we are looking for." With the cost of workers' accommodation on Yas setting the developers back Dh1.2 billion (US$330m), and additional Dh500 million in upkeep per year, it is a significant commitment by those behind the project. "It is a major part of this project," said Steve Worrell, the project director of Yas Island for Aldar. "It influences the levels of productivity, quality and safety here.

"Conditions have improved dramatically since when I started working in the Gulf 30 years ago. "When I came to the Gulf at that time, some workers were living inside the packing crates in which the equipment came. Then they would have to cook their own food after work. Now, we provide the food, the accommodation and the health facilities." Managing what is in essence a small town provides its own challenges. Scott Eugene Dowding, the utilities co-ordinator on the site, said around 120,000 chapatis, eight tonnes of rice and 147,000 litres of drinking water - seven litres per person - are needed for the camps every day.

"I have been around the world doing this," he said. "This is one of the best camps I have ever seen. The whole infrastructure is in place here." The majority of the work on Yas Island at present is focused on Yas Marina, where the 5.6km Formula One track, 500-room hotel and all team and media buildings are under construction. One of the most ambitious components of the circuit is the marina itself. It will be deep enough to accommodate 100ft yachts and is now almost complete.

Mr Worrell said the circuit should be finished by June next year. Elsewhere, the Ferrari World theme park and other features are under construction. A sign on entering Yas reminds visitors that almost 40 million man hours have been logged on the island since work began last year. In that time, there have been no deaths and only two injuries leading to three or more days off work - a broken ankle and a broken leg.

Hari Kumar, a 43-year-old superviser from Tamil Nadu in India, was not sure what to expect when he left his homeland for his first building job in the UAE. "Conditions here are very comfortable," he said. "The food is free and very good, I can exercise and go to the gym, there is a TV hall, somewhere I can play cricket. It is 100 per cent welfare. They look after us." @Email:rhughes@thenational.ae