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Sat 17 Feb 2007 12:00 AM

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Is this the future of labour camps?

When Construction Week asked contractors to get in touch if they could show off high standards of labour accommodation, Al Futtaim Carillion jumped at the chance. Monika Grzesik reports on the firm's efforts to keep its workforce happy.

The issue of workers' rights in the UAE is one that has been well-documented by the international media, as well as attracted the attention of international watchdogs.

But while some contractors have been exposed for failing to provide their construction workers with safe and clean living conditions, others have taken steps to not only ensure their labour camps are well maintained, but are also investing time and money on providing their workforce with a welfare support system.

One such contractor is Al Futtaim Carillion, which in December last year won an award for Best Labour Accommodation from Dubai Municipality.

The company has so far invested around US $544,000 (AED2 million) on the maintenance and upkeep of its labour camps. Measures have also been introduced to improve the welfare of construction workers and maintain a sense of well-being among them, which Al Futtaim Carillion believes will in turn lead to increased productivity at work.

Last week, Construction Week visited the company's labour camp in Jebel Ali, which houses 1,800 workers. Luxury it may not be, but the overriding feeling is that the most important basic human needs of healthcare, hygiene, food, water and comfortable living conditions are well catered for, and the labourers living there appeared to be genuinely relaxed and happy.

"As a construction company everyone is interdependent on one another - the labourers and the management," said Mohammed Hamed Ali, HR business partner, Al Futtaim Carillion.

"So if they contribute to us with their wholehearted and complete dedication, we will get good results. In order for them to perform well in work they need to have peace of mind, which is very important.

"This accommodation is home from home and they should not feel alone here. That is the top priority for us. If they are satisfied, we can expect more production. Only then can we be very effective."

A management team, which includes a camp manager, health and safety officer, and employee relations personnel take care of running the camp.

Gurdev Singh, safety advisor, said: "The company is investing in the welfare of its labourers to maintain employee relations between them and the management so that they do not feel alone. We are a kind of family."

Singh carries out a weekly tour of all 10 Al Futtaim Carillion labour camps, inspecting each one and completing a checklist to ensure that any problems are immediately followed up.

"Every day I run a camp inspection and check the accommodation," he said.

"It should be neat and clean, workers should feel comfortable when they come back from work. I check hygiene and sanitation. From a health and safety point of view we have to look after our people and provide them with good facilities and basic needs in the camps. It is up to us to maintain our camps to a very good standard and look after them."

Services provided at the camp include a 24-hour medical centre and isolation room to deal with all first aid and communicable diseases.

Paramedic staff and clinics are available in case of accidents on site. Workers are paid on a fortnightly basis and receive overtime and sick pay.

Three meals a day are also provided on top of wages by catering company, Abela Catering, which is contracted to provide labourers with a varied menu that changes from week to week. A constant supply of drinking water is provided through filtered water dispensers within the camp, and filters are changed on a daily basis.

Communication is a major focus in the camp. An initiative known as ‘toolbox talk' takes the form of a weekly open forum where labourers are encouraged to air any grievances they may have, or bring up any problems that need resolving. Newcomers are also informed of the camp rules and regulations.

"Whatever a labourer feels, or if he needs something, this should straight away come to the attention of the camp manager, and we try to resolve the problem as soon as possible," said Singh.

"Sometimes these are personal issues such as problems back at home. Maybe a family member is sick; they may want to go on emergency leave and need help to buy a ticket home - every assistance is being given to the workers."

The company believes that the compassion shown towards its workers has resulted in a happier living and working environment.

"We have 20 nationalities in our camps and we have never faced any problems such as violence or mobs," added Singh.

Protests and strikes have so far been avoided, as have other issues such as alcohol abuse.

"We monitor the labourers closely and have very strict regulations in terms of bringing alcohol into the camps. Unlike other camps, we have not witnessed misbehaviour."

Further improvements are in the pipeline, including plans to introduce internet cafes to allow workers to communicate more with their families at home.

A ‘labour action group' is also being set up to address other problems the labourers may have. "In addition to ‘tool box talk' this will be an extra step to bring us closer to the labourers so that we can communicate with them better," said Singh.

"We are trying to set a good example. Everyone should follow this practice for their labourers."

“From a health and safety point of view we have to look after our people and provide them with good facilities and basic needs in the camps. It is up to us to maintain our camps to a very good standard.”

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Charlie 12 years ago

I believe that it is about time clear standards are laid down by the authorities relating to labour camps. It should include recreation, catering, minimum living space, number of showers and toilets to population etc. At present we hear snippets of requirements as and when someone identifies a problem. But these do not appear to be published in any clear format. Catering for labour camps should be in line with the food code that applies to hotels. Is there any reason for hygiene and cleanliness in labour camps to be any different to 5* hotels? Lets get HACCP introduced to these areas and have all food handlers trained not just the people catering to tourists. Lets have clear recreation requirements to include sports facilities. These people are building the UAE and its future.

G Mathews 12 years ago

I think AFC provides one of the best facilities for the labours compared to the majority of the Contracting Companies here in the UAE .The food was good before but should have improved after all Albela is a good catering company , even caters to Emirates Airlines.