Labour camp conditions branded inhuman as Ministry urged to act

Construction workers march on Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs to highlight the poor conditions in the UAE’s labour camps

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By  Rhys Jones Published  April 24, 2004

300 construction workers marched on the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs in Dubai last week to voice their grievances about the poor living conditions at their labour camp. The Indian workers claim that up to 15 labourers are living in one room in certain camps and branded conditions as ‘inhuman.’ Overcrowding and the general neglect of labour camps is rife in the UAE, despite stringent rules and regulations enforced to ensure that workers enjoy all of the benefits guaranteed by employers in their contracts. Laws introduced by the UAE’s Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs were implemented to safeguard the interests of workers and govern their living conditions. However, these laws seem to be being ignored by many construction companies running labour camps. With the boom in the region’s construction industry, there has been a massive growth in the need for a skilled and unskilled labour force, which sub-contractors hire from various Asian countries such as India and Nepal. Construction companies and sub-contractors are bound by contracts to take care of a foreign workers’ accommodation, food, transport and medical care needs. The reality of the situation is that only 40%-50% of these companies bother to fulfil their responsibility. The problem is widespread, with recruitment agencies in India even aware of the dire conditions some labourers have to endure in the Middle East. “We have had many complaints from workers in the UAE regarding the non-payment of salaries but also complaints about the standard of living in the construction labour camps,” said Sandeep Garg, recruitment consultant, Overseas Careers Recruiting of New Delhi, India. The provision of accommodation, food, transport, medical care and an air ticket home after two years lure prospective workers to the UAE. However, the truth of the situation is often quite different to what the workers expected. “The information we get is that rooms are overcrowded, conditions are dirty and the food is poor. Many workers are unhappy in these camps but cannot leave because the construction companies refuse to buy flights home for these workers and sometimes don’t even pay them. With the UAE, the promises don’t match the reality,” he added. With over 1000-labour camps in Abu Dhabi’s industrial area of Mussafah and around 5000-6000 in Dubai, many workers feel it is high time the problem was properly addressed by the authorities once and for all. Labourers have been complaining for some time that the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs’ inspection department do not conduct enough raids on labour camps to inspect the conditions and facilities workers are forced to live in. Meanwhile, a source at the Ministry said that the companies must fulfil the conditions they agreed with their employees under Chapter 101 of the labour law that governs the living conditions of the workers. “When we are all in our room there is not even enough space to move around because the place is so crowded,” one construction worker said. “We are all here trying to earn money to send back home to our families and it is a real struggle to have to live in these conditions after working for 12 hours straight,” he added.

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