One of the first things you notice in here are the beat up yellow buses. These are used to transport construction workers from the labour camps on the outskirts of the city to whatever hole in the ground they are working on that day.

They get up a lot earlier than the regular office worker, and on your way to work, you will see them, working on the roads and buildings; thin small men wearing dirty blue overalls often with a scarf wrapped around their face to protect their lungs from the dust they are breathing in all day every day. A few wear hard hats, but they are in the minority. Safety on the buildings is clearly not a priority.

Later in the day, you will see then standing or sitting by the side of the road, waiting for their lift back to the small rooms, where they live, sleeping four to a bed, with no space to hang clothes, and the most basic of toilet facilities.

You may even see them in the buses, their blank eyes looking out at you. They are earning about $4 a day for their labours and they are prepared to live the way they do in order to send what they do earn back home. Clearly they feel they are better off here than in Karala.

When Dubai, the only Gulf state with no oil reserves to speak of, turned itself into a tourism honey pot, attracting investors for its high rise apartments, the other Gulf states looked on in envy and then decided to follow the same path. The result is a building frenzy not just in Dubai, but also in Bahrain, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi.

In thsi country, non-residents weren’t allowed to buy property. But in the past few months all has changed, a number of exclusive building projects are underway, aimed at the over-moneyed of the First World.

With less than 200,000 natives, labour at all levels must be imported. The Lebanese appear to run the country and the Filipinos do the cleaning, the nursing and the skilled labour – they are the electricians, plumbers and receptionists. Like in Ireland and the UK, they share apartments and houses.

In the pecking order of hired hands, construction workers come right at the bottom. They come from abject poverty in India, Pakistan and Nepal, and they pay their “sponsors” $2,000 for a three-year visa to work in the Gulf. When they get here, they hand over their passport as security until the loan is paid back.

On the morning of Thursday April 13, two workers, one Nepalese, the other Egyptian, were found dead in their sleep at the R*s L&%fan labour camp. When an ambulance came to take the bodies away, some workers began fighting with camp bosses. Violent protests followed and about 2,000 workers were rounded up, with the police called in first and then the army. The body of the Nepalese worker was removed at 11am – six hour after the ambulance had arrived on the scene. One worker alleged that the camp’s management had attempted to cover up the deaths.

The labour camp accommodation consist of portacabins, with some of these also burned out by the workers who claimed they were “haunted”.

By yesterday, the company who workers had died had agreed to relocate their staff from the cabins after a meeting with the Nepalese ambassador, who said that the company involved that a decent enough reputation, in that in paid its workers on time. The company has number of camps in the area, housing more than 1,000 workers. According to some, nearly 50 people have died mysteriously in one particular area over the past two to three years.

Police are questioning those they have kept in custody and if anyone is found guilty of inciting a riot, they will be deported. Workers were back on their various sites.

On Saturday, the G*&f Times editorialised on the matter:

The issue should not be dealt with as a public order problem. “Like other expatriates, they (the workers) are hoping to make more money than they could at home …They often have to endure difficult conditions but nonetheless, it is almost unheard of for such workers to be involved in any significant form of unrest.”

The paper points out that there is very little official regulation of conditions in such camps, which allows them to be overcrowded, creating potential sanitation and health problems.

Huge numbers of labourers are employed in the country; to improve their conditions would mean considerable extra costs for their employers. “Nevertheless, this is a rich country and it would be appropriate to ensure that all residents are guaranteed at least some basic accommodation standards.”

Somthing to think about before you invest in Palm Island or some other luxury resort.


  1. LindieNaughton April 18, 2006 at 10:11 am #

    The latest is that only one worker died, a Nepalese, who had complaiend about chest pains during the day. And in the past 15 years, only 42 people died out of a camp population of 18,000, which the company concerned thinks is “normal”. They also think that sleeping four men to a bed, inadequate sanitation and paying $4 a day is “normal”.

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