What now for camp blaze victims?

A major blaze last month left many employees of Dhaabi Contracting Company without any personal possessions. The workers claim that electronic items, clothes and even their wages went up in smoke, while the company rubbished some of these claims. Conrad Egbert reports.

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By  Conrad Egbert Published  July 29, 2006

The fire that ravaged through the Dhaabi Contracting Company labour camp in Dubai just over two weeks ago has left some workers penniless. But without insurance, the only compensation that they will receive will be at the discretion of their employer. The 600 portacabins located near the International City in Al Awir were completely gutted in the 12 July fire, which the company believes was caused by a short circuit. Dhaabi administration manager, Sharif Aziz, told Construction Week: “There were so many air conditioners in the camp and the temperatures are so high that something must have short circuited resulting in the break out of the fire. “It was about noon when it happened and we’re very thankful that no-one got hurt. It was an unfortunate event that got out of control.” The fire spread rapidly from cabin to cabin before the Rashidiya fire-fighting squad was able to put it out, and resulted in widespread damage of all personal possessions of the workers. “We have all suffered an immense loss due to this fire,” one of the workers at the camp, told CW when we visited the burnt out shells in Awir. “All our belongings including our personal TVs, fridges and even money have been lost. We’re lucky that no one was here during the fire or some of us could have even lost our lives. “We had been told by the management that we would be compensated within a week of handing in a list of whatever we had lost in the fire.” Some of the workers have also claimed that they have lost up to three months earnings in the fire. Without bank accounts it is common practice for site workers to keep their money along with their belongings in the camp. Thankfully, most of the workers weren’t present in the camp at the time of the blaze and no one was hurt. But now the company and its employees have clashed over claims for compensation. The company said that it is doing as much as it can to support the workers and has transferred them to another camp owned by it in Sonapur, Al Qusais. “We gave each worker around US $27 (AED100) to buy new clothes and provided them with free food including three meals a day for three days so that they can settle down again in the new camp,” explains Aziz. “We had even given the workers the opportunity to draw up lists of whatever items they had lost in the fire so that we could take care of their loss. “We received the lists and were appalled to see that the most ridiculous claims have been made. Some workers have claimed gold and diamonds, while some have even gone to the extent of claiming large amounts of US dollars. “Each worker has a bank account along with an ATM card so no-one has any reason to claim money lost in the fire.” Aziz adds that because of these claims, which the company feels are unreasonable, they have referred it to the authorities who are going to look into the matter further. “We wished to compensate them and get this over with as soon as possible for the workers’ sake, but the claims have created another problem,” he says. “The police have said that if they find any claims untrue or unreasonable, they will investigate the individuals and charge the offenders with theft and fraud after which they will be deported back to their home countries. “This fire was a very unfortunate happening and we wanted to show our concern for the workers by asking them to submit an honest list of claims so that we could help them but it hasn’t worked out the way it could have.” The company has said that due to the disputed claims, it will take longer to compensate the workers. The battle for compensation looks set to run and run. *Can your labour accommodation set a good example to others in the construction industry? Email: conrad.egbert@itp.com, Tel: +971 4 210 8925

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