Mass brawl at Arabtec labour camp leaves 40 in hospital

Police were called to the Abu Dhabi site and 25 were arrested
Mass brawl at Arabtec labour camp leaves 40 in hospital
By Shane McGinley
Thu 22 Aug 2013 11:35 AM

Forty people were hospitalised and 25 were arrested at an Arabtec labour camp on Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island, following a brawl in which rival gangs of workers were stabbed and attacked with sticks and metal bars.

Growing tensions turned violent on Tuesday night when rival groups of Pakistani and Bangladeshi workers, armed with hammers, knives and metal bars, engaged in a mass brawl at the labour camp.

Reports claimed some labourers suffered stab wounds and fighting continued into Wednesday morning, resulting in a police helicopter and officers being sent to the site, where over 2,000 workers live.

“So far, up to the last report I got, 40 people were hospitalised. I think a lot of them are basic injuries but I am sure a big number of those injured most likely have been discharged form hospital,” Ashraf Zeitoon, the head of group corporate communications at Arabtec, told Arabian Business.

Zeitoon confirmed 25 people were arrested by police and said the incident erupted after a Pakistani tea boy got into a disagreement with a Bangladeshi tea boy over the key to the small kitchenette where they both work.

“We were on the site straight away and the police were very cooperative and helped calm down the whole issue. After it subsided, one of their biggest demands was that they wanted to be separated. So we moved all the Pakistani workers to a different labour camp we have on Yas Island.

“We managed to recover with minimal damage to the work flow and no significant delays whatsoever,” he added.

Earlier this year, thousands of workers at an Arabtec labour camp in Dubai staged a four-day strike seeking higher pay.

"This unwarranted stoppage had been instigated by a minority group who will be held accountable for their actions," Arabtec said in a statement on Dubai's bourse, with police adding that about 200 of the workers would be repatriated.

Arabtec, in which Abu Dhabi state-owned fund Aabar owns a near 22-percent stake, was among the contractors that built Dubai's palm-shaped island projects and the world's tallest tower, the Burj Khalifa.

The latest incident took place at the Saadiyat Construction Village on Saadiyat Island, which Abu Dhabi is converting into an international tourist destination, at a cost of $27bn.

The island will have four museums and a performing arts centre designed by world-renowned architectural firms as well as a New York University campus, golf courses, hotels, and luxury residences.

Master developer Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC) said late last year it was committed to overcoming any challenges in order to "secure an internationally recognised standard of living for workers".

The comments came after the publication of the first independent monitoring report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) on worker welfare practices on Saadiyat Island.

The report, which provides an appraisal of TDIC's contractors' and subcontractors' compliance with the company's employment policy, showed positive findings and recommendations for improvements, TDIC said in comments published by news agency WAM.

TDIC appointed PwC in June 2011 to provide independent monitoring of the welfare of workers on Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi's multi-billion dollar tourism project.

Human rights groups had previously accused Abu Dhabi authorities of turning a blind eye to the conditions workers, who mainly come from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and other South Asian countries.

PwC carried out 1,341 worker interviews, representing nine percent of the total monthly average of workers, a statement said.

Sultan Al Mahmoud, TDIC's executive director of strategic performance, said: "The results demonstrate that improvements on various levels related to working and living conditions have been achieved and sustained.

"We recognise that transparency on these findings is important, and we have already taken action to improve the areas highlighted over the course of the monitoring programme.

"We realise that there are certain points that need further attention, and as always, TDIC will continue its commitment to working with all relevant parties - its contractors and partners - in overcoming any challenges in order to secure an internationally recognised standard of living for workers."

Abu Dhabi is converting Saadiyat Island into an international tourist destination, at a cost of $27bn.

The island will have four museums and a performing arts centre designed by world-renowned architectural firms as well as a New York University campus, golf courses, hotels, and luxury residences.

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