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Arabtec opens the doors to its labour camps

Bosses say media should focus on the positives not negatives

A labourer at the Nad Al Sheba camp in Dubai.
A labourer at the Nad Al Sheba camp in Dubai.
A bedroom in one of Arabtec's labour camps.
A bedroom in one of Arabtec's labour camps.
A kitchen in one of the camps.
A kitchen in one of the camps.
Washing hanging out to dry at Jebel Ali 2 camp.
Washing hanging out to dry at Jebel Ali 2 camp.
Two workers at the Nad Al Sheba camp.
Two workers at the Nad Al Sheba camp.

Click on more images to see photos

Arabtec bosses insisted today they were doing their best to provide decent accommodation and living standards for labourers in Dubai.

The firm, the UAE’s largest contractor by market share, admitted it had been upset by a recent BBC documentary claiming its labour camps were filthy and overcrowded.

Instead the media should focus on the positives not the negatives, staff said today during a tour by journalists of three of its labour camps, one the Nad Al Sheba camp where Panorama filmed overflowing raw sewage.

During the past two days both Dubai Municipality and the Ministry of Labour have visited the company’s camps for inspections.

Arabtec, which employs a total of 62,000 people, insisted that its camps were cleaned on a daily basis and that much more was being done to improve the quality of life for its workers.

“The BBC really shook us up,” said Lakshmi Montgomery, Arabtec’s welfare officer, who runs a Campfit scheme to educate workers about basic hygiene, everyday skills like crossing the road, and simple reading and writing.

Montgomery said that part of the problem lay with some workers not understanding basic hygiene, as well as problems from neighbouring camps.

"I’ve seen people using outside as a toilet. When they come here we have to teach them to sneeze or cough because they are living with other people,” she said.

Arabtec has more than 20 camps in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Today journalists were shown around Jebel Ali Camp 1, Jebel Ali Camp 2 and Nad Al Sheba.

As expected, the worst was Nad Al Sheba, a temporary camp in Dubai Sports City. Staff said the camp, which is one year old, is currently being dismantled because work on the project has finished and some of the buildings are being moved to camps in Jebel Ali and Al Quoz.

The camp has the capacity for 8500 workers, but at the moment houses 6000. The other 2000 were transferred and the remaining 500 either resigned or were sacked, Mahmoud Al Shanti, Arabtec administration manager, said.

"We are doing our best," he said, adding that the workers have some benefits like an hour's free access to the internet a week to make phone calls to their families. It is doubtful that many labourers are able to use computers, but the firm says there is a technician on hand to help.

Tariq Salar, the camp boss, said Nad Al Sheba has 996 rooms, of which 248 have the capacity to fit 12 people and 748 have the capacity to fit six people. Furniture is basic – a bump bed, thin mattress, sheets and a pillow and a small locker for each person.

The camp also has 64 kitchens – worktops with gas cooker rings laid on top – 800 toilets, but only one canteen and one dining room, which can seat 150 people at a time.

Being in the desert, the camp suffers when it rains as the sand becomes waterlogged, but Salar said the water is pumped out by tankers. The remains of deep tyre tracks and pot holes can be seen everywhere.

Buildings in Arabtec’s permanent camps are of better quality, housing fewer people. But, up to six workers can still share a room. In Jebel Ali 2, which accommodates 4,300 labourers, there is only one laundry with six washing machines.

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