Arabtec to upgrade labour camps for 20,000 workers

EXCLUSIVE: Company CFO rules out setting up recruitment offices ins south Asia.
Arabtec to upgrade labour camps for 20,000 workers
CAMP PLEDGE: Arabtec is in the process of upgrading its Dubai labour camps.
By Damian Reilly
Thu 11 Jun 2009 06:43 AM

Arabtec Construction is in the process of upgrading its Dubai labour camps in which it accommodates more than 20,000 workers, a top company official has announced.

But calls for the company to set up recruitment offices across south Asia to tackle claims that recruiting agents are often corrupt were unrealistic, chief financial officer (CFO) Ziad Makhzoumi told Arabian Business.

“You have to understand the background of Dubai. It was built very quickly. There were shortages of many things. One of them was labour camps. The Municipality would not allow you to build a labour camp on the beachfront," he said in an interview.

"So the choices that we were given were possibly not the best choices, and not the most convenient locations. Some had limitations on water, infrastructure, and sewage and so on. And the camp that was featured (in the recent notorious BBC Panorama documentary) was the oldest camp that we had. It is being shut down,” Makhzoumi added.

A recent slump in property prices in the emirate had made the cost of labour camps less expensive, he said.

“The good thing now is that you can get new, fantastic labour camps at possibly half the price, which was not the case two years ago. We were looking but we couldn’t find one. You can’t just take a building and put labourers in it, because their requirements are different to staff.

"You need to give them facilities, you need to give them cooking space, you need to give them entertainment. You need an open space, for a football field, or a badminton court, or whatever.

“So we are in the process of moving even some of the good camps to better camps. Because we can get them brand new at much lower prices.”

However, Makhzoumi said that the idea of the company setting up recruitment offices across countries such as India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka to recruit staff directly was an “impossible” one.

Calls for the company to do exactly that have followed recent revelations in the media that recruiting agents in these countries are often corrupt.

Asked why Arabtec Construction does not do its recruitment directly, Makhzoumi said: “Because it is difficult. We employ 46,000 people in the UAE. To be able to recruit and interview 46,000 people, you would probably need thousands of people at every location. It is an expensive way of doing it.

“Say we employ 5,000 people to do that, and they employ 46,000, then what do you do next? You’re not going to recruit another 46,000. And usually you go with people who are supposedly of reputable background, and these are people who are checked through their own embassies.

"It doesn’t mean things should not be reviewed, I agree. But we don’t understand the culture. It is very difficult for me personally to go and interview in Sri Lanka. You need to go through an expert.

“To do it on a big scale would be physically, financially, logistically impossible. We have tens of nationalities, and they recruit from different centres in each country. So what do you do? You set up twenty centres in India and everywhere else? And we are not qualified to do so.”

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