2,000 workers move out of 'BBC scandal' labour camp

EXCLUSIVE: Another 1,500 labourers to transfer to new camp in three weeks.
2,000 workers move out of 'BBC scandal' labour camp
By Tom Arnold
Thu 04 Jun 2009 05:56 AM

The first phase of the Dubai labour camp at the centre of a scathing undercover BBC documentary has been dismantled with 2,000 workers moved out, according to an official with Arabtec Construction.

But around 4,000 workers still remain at Nad al Sheba nearly two months on from the screening in the UK of a Panorama programme, which claimed to have uncovered overcrowding and filthy conditions within the facility.

Up to 1,500 of those labourers will be moved in three weeks to Meydan Camp, a new facility the contractor is building near Dubai’s new racecourse.

It could be around four to five months before Nad al Sheba, once the largest accommodation camp operated by Arabtec, was closed completely, according to Lakshmi Montgomery, accommodation and welfare officer for Arabtec, one of the largest contractors in the UAE with a workforce of 62,000.

“We have managed to shift many of the residents to allow for the dismantling of the second phase of the camp,” she said.

Camp manager Tariq Salar told Arabian Business during a tour of Nad al Sheba in April that it would be shut within two months.

Of the 2,000 workers which had already vacated the camp, the majority had moved to a new Arabtec camp in Al Quoz industrial area, with the remainder moved to Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia for new Arabtec contracts, Montgomery said.

The documentary, screened in the UK in April, showed overflowing raw sewage leaking through the camp. One worker complained the toilets in Nad al Sheba were so filthy they were unusable and about garbage and water blocking the roads around the camp.

Following the broadcast, the UAE’s Ministry of Labour promised to investigate the “veracity” of the claims through inspection visits.

Montgomery said since visits to all of its camps by both the ministry and the Dubai Municipality, Arabtec had taken steps to ensure there were no more than eight workers to a bedroom, regardless of its size, to comply with government conditions.

She said the contractor would also be hiring a psychotherapist within a week who would make regular visits to the camps to offer counselling services to labourers.

Two microbiologists would also start work within a week to provide advice on personal hygiene and cooking to labourers.

In addition, Arabtec had refurbished camp kitchens by retiling and replacing wooden kitchen cabinets with aluminum versions.

She said bad behaviour within camps had been almost completely eradicated following Arabtec’s launch of its own audit team which carried out daily evening inspections of rooms, as well as the establishment of a code of conduct setting out rules within camps.

The code forbids workers from cooking food, smoking cigarettes or spitting within their rooms, with those who break the code issued with warning letters.

In addition, Arabtec organised regular entertainment for the best behaved workers including musical-themed nights at Sonapur, where it has three camps accommodating 3,050 workers in total, and a weekly trip to a horse performance show at Arabian Ranches.

“We have managed to curb bad behaviour,” she said. “We used to have a lot of taps and showers being broken and the maintenance guys in the camps would be working around the clock but now the problems are almost down to zero.”

When Arabian Business visited Nad al Sheba during a media tour in April, it accommodated 6,000 workers. The camp was designed as a temporary facility while Arabtec completed work on building the nearby racecourse.

Meydan Group in January terminated Arabtec's $1.3bn joint contract with Malaysia’s WCT Bhd to build the racecourse, citing delays to delivery of the scheme ahead of its opening for the Dubai World Cup horse race in 2010.

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