Friday, November 30, 2007

Silly thought

Having coffee at Madinat Jumeirah this morning and seeing this I thought - we usually have a fairy on the top of Christmas trees...

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Good news for labourers?

Apparently about 150 major contracting companies have decided to raise their labourers' pay by 15% to 20%.

The raise was confirmed by an official of the UAE Contractors' Association, although each individual company will decide on the amount and from when the increases will be paid to their workers.

Even if the 20% is paid it's not really a pay rise, it will just bring them back to where they were before the US$ crash devalued their earnings - the AED being pegged to the dollar.

The pay levels are sobering. According to labourers interviewed by Gulf News unskilled workers get AED350 to 550 a month (that's US$95 to 150) while skilled workers are paid the princely sum of AED700 to a whopping AED1200 (that's US$190 to 326).

Not a lot is it.

No surprise, it's a design error.

What everyone else seems have to been able to see from the beginning, the RTA didn't see.

Why am I not surprised.

The obvious fault in the air-conditioned bus shelter design has hit the news today, now that the shelters are appearing all over Dubai.

They ain't big enough!

The RTA's policy is to have much more public transport - excellent - and to 'encourage' people to abandon their cars in favour of it. Not a strong possibility if we have to stand around in 50C heat and 100% humidity, so the RTA came up with a good solution - a/c bus stops.

But we have already-crowded buses, the population of Dubai increasing by 800 people a day, everyone told to use public transport...and the bus shelters are designed to take a maximum of 14 people, eight seated and six standing. I must say that seems like an optimistic number, they're only 2.5 x 6 metres.

The problem has obviously been recognised - far too late - because many places have two of the shelters side-by-side...

It should have been thought of at the design stage! When you start with a blank canvass there is no excuse.

Given the culture in which we're living, another interesting point was raised by a Gulf News reader - why are there no separate shelters for ladies?

You can read the Gulf News report here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Stupid, stupid me.

For a long time I've been complaining that the RTA is making it more difficult for motorists to get around when they should be making it easier.

Today I was reading the news that the trams we were threatened with some time ago are for real and work will start in January. Initially the trams will run for 15 kilometres along Al Sufouh Road from Madinat Jumeirah to Dubai Marina, and around both sides of the Marina. The route is shown very well in this Gulf News graphic:

Thanks largely to Salik these roads are jammed solid morning and evening already. Losing a third of the road space to a tramline - plus the inevitable closures & diversions while the work is being done - will make it all but impossible.

Then a blinding flash. The light came on. The penny dropped. It all suddenly became clear.

Why I haven't seen the blindingly obvious for so long I don't know.

It's to make driving difficult to the point of impossible.
That's the plan. Always has been. I simply didn't see it.

I stupidly thought the integrated traffic plan included private cars. It obviously doesn't.

It's so simple. Make it so frustrating, so annoying, so time-consuming to use a private car and we'll all have to use the Metro/tram/buses/ferries.

The plan is simply to drive us all off the roads completely.

An RTA official is quoted as saying: "The tram project will encourage people in these posh areas to use alternate mode of transport instead of personal cars."

Encourage? We'll have no option.

By the way, I'm sure I must have raised the point when I talked about a tramline in a posting ages ago - can you imagine the danger, the chaos with Dubai's motorists and trams on the same road?

The stupidity of jargon

Something that's been increasingly annoying me over recent years is the use of frantically trendy, meaningless jargon.

Look at this classic example, the opening phrase from a press release in today's Gulf News:

", the region's global property and lifestyle brand offering comprehensive marketing solutions...

Totally meaningless and it tells potential clients nothing about the company or what it does.

In an effort to be trendy they've packed today's top-five buzz words into a meaningless jumble of nonsense - 'global', 'lifestyle', 'brand', 'marketing' and the daddy of them all, 'solutions'.

Nobody sells anything any more other than 'solutions'.

They're a reputable real estate company. Surely they're not ashamed of that fact? So why are they hiding it?

If a company loses sight of what it is and what it does it's headed for trouble.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

How to obstruct Dubai's commercial life.


Some errors occurred while processing the requested tasks.

* Your server has unexpectedly terminated the connection. Possible causes for this are server problems, network problems blah blah blah...

The last few days I've had this message on my e-mail more often than I've been able to use it.

It simply won't connect.

I keep trying, it flickers on for a few minutes, I send a couple of messages...then up comes the terminated message again.

Add to that the current unblievably slow speed of the internet connection, which is even worse than the normal slow speed, and you have Etisalat's contribution to the succes of Dubai as an international business hub. Thousands of people sitting in offices glumly staring at computer screens that load at an agonising, frustrating snail's pace. People forced to waste time, to be unproductive.

This is the 21st Century, international commerce is increasingly done via the internet. Dubai's very future depends on us being a major international business hub, with an increasing amount of business done from here, with more and more international companies relocating or opening regional offices here. Communication is the lifeblood of business. But Etisalat's infrastructure isn't up to the job. Dubai's businesses must have modern telecommunications services, with sufficient capacity, fast and reliable.

Etisalat's website assures me:

We enable people to reach each other, businesses to find new markets and everyone to fulfil their potential. Across the UAE, we provide telephone, TV and Internet services for everyone, and much more for businesses. We are increasingly present in international markets. Our customers enjoy the latest services and technologies, as well as a choice of great entertainment.

Our website will let you discover all we have to offer.

Reach out. The world’s waiting.

I'm trying to, but you won't let me!!!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Yet more avoidable deaths

"Two men were killed and 21 others injured when a car hit a group of men working on a site near Global Village. Police said the motorist, believed to be speeding, lost control and hit a group of workers who were carrying out road maintenance."

What amazes me is that this doesn't happen on a daily basis. Not only because of the moronic, criminal driving we have to contend with but, equally importantly, because safety for roadworkers is virtually non-existent.

Their 'protection' is invariably a red flag and a few plastic cones.

To make it even more dangerous the 'warning' is usually, at best, just a few metres in front of them, and all too often the red flag is actually in the middle of the work. Even motorists driving sensibly have a hard time taking evasive action. And, of course, the last-second manoeuvres this forces on them increases the chances of an accident.

I flicked through some of my photographs and here are some examples:

The red flag man standing within the danger zone, no warning for motorists that they're approaching a danger area.

On the Sheikh Zayed Road racetrack, workers wandering around behind plastic cones.

On a dangerous junction in Dubai Marina, gangs of unprotected workers.

There's a whole safety issue here and it's not exclusively down to the companies arranging suitable protection barriers, the workers themselves - and their supervisors - urgently need education.

They need to understand that motorists need adequate prior warning of a hazard ahead. Grouping the work gang and the red flag man together, wandering around in the road, dashing across the road to move to a different part of the site are all recipes for disaster.

At the under-construction Interchange 6 there are concrete barriers, but still the workers wander in the roads, jump the barriers, work with their back to the traffic seemingly oblivious to the danger.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Wanna be a bureaucrat?

Government employees get 70 percent pay hike

Nov 20, 2007 - 04:59 -

Abu Dhabi, Nov. 20, 2007 (WAM) -- All federal government employees, including civilians and security personnel of the interior ministry, will get 70 percent salary hike with effect from January 2008 salary.

I was interested to read that several government employees interviewed by Gulf News said that while they were delighted with their increase they were worried about its effect on inflation. One senior official said that three years ago when they received a major increment, traders pushed prices up to the extent that he felt increased expenses cancelled it out.

Three immediate questions come to mind. One is the general inflationary effect of such a big increase. Second is whether the increased costs will mean we all, private individuals and companies, will have to pay more for government services.

Third is the inevitable 'wot about the workers' in the private sector. Inflation isn't only hitting government sector workers.

The Gulf News story is here.

Amazing! I agree with the RTA!

A small panel in Gulf News has what should be a much bigger story, given the appalling driving here.


The Dubai Roads & Transport Authority is currently studying driving licence system in Dubai, said a senior offical.

The study focuses on a comprehensive education package that also include drivers' responsibilities, safe driving practice, road safety information, road rules and driving attitude.

"We are also working on making changes in the driving school training syllabus, which will be announced soon," the official said.

It needs much more than this of course, particularly for the here and now, but for the future education is the key so it's a very good start.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The endless zoo saga

After many false promises going back years there was a report last July that Dubai's new zoo was being constructed.

"Construction of a huge new zoo will start in August...all the animals at the existing Dubai Zoo in Jumeirah will be moved by the end of this year to the new and much bigger zoo being built in DubaiLand...the core zoo will be built within three months after construction starts in August."

I posted about that back on July 30th.

It sounded genuine, it was all finalised, land had been allocated, private investors were being invited to participate, visitor chalets were being built, a botanic garden was being included...

Then it all went very quiet.

Until today.

A small panel in Gulf News records that Dubai Municipality "hope we will be allotted a piece of land in Dubailand within a couple of weeks."


That's positive isn't it. I hope I'll win the lottery.

So the latest news is that nothing's actually happened. The design for the zoo is ready - but as the land hasn't been allocated how do they know the design will work? Maybe it's too big for the land they'll eventually get. If they get it.

Meanwhile the 1,100-plus animals remain crowded into their appalling little prisons, which remains a blot on Dubai's reputation.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

A foggy day...

...not in London Town as the song goes, but in Dubai.

In fact most of this week has been foggy overnight and into the morning.

Usually the sun burns it off by around nine in the morning but today it didn't clear completely at all.

Here's the normal view of Jumeirah Lake Towers from the traffic lights by Marina Mansions:

This was the view at 9.30 this morning:

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Labour accommodation inspections

I posted last week about the Cabinet directive that labour accommodation had to meet prescribed standards, and the follow-up by The Big Boss who ordered Dubai Municipality to employ sufficient inspectors.

Today Gulf News reports that Dubai Police's Human Rights Division is doing its bit to improve things.

Special teams have begun to inspect labour accommodation to ensure that it complies with the law. They began with inspections in Al Ghusais, Al Qouz and Jebel Ali and will 'listen to accommodation-related complaints and suggestions from labourers', according to the report.

The UAE, and Dubai in particular because of our high profile, have been getting bad press internationally because of the treatment of labourers by some, by far too many, companies.

As I've said before, it's a sad fact of life that we don't all treat each other as we should. Given that we don't, we need the authorities to enforce the laws and it at last sems to be happening in regard to labourer accommodation.

Fingers crossed...

You can read the full Gulf News story here.

Appalling traffic offences figures.

A follow on to the bus crash we're given statistics by Dubai Police on traffic violations.

Three of the figures stand out to me because of the danger they represent.

In the first ten months of this year the police have recorded:

One million speeding offences.

Forty-two thousand reckless driving.

Thirty-two thousand jumping red signal.

That last one terrifies me. Over one hundred jump red lights every day! Every fifteen minutes a moron somewhere in Dubai jumps a red light.

And these are just the offences the police know about. We can only guess how many more go unrecorded.

It's no surprise that so far this year two hundred and seventy people have died in crashes.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Another fatal crash.

Just look at this:

The police say the bus driver was speeding and jumped a red light. That's normal for Dubai's roads.

The driver says the brakes failed.

The bus hit two cars and another bus before landing on top of the Pajero, killing one of the passengers in the 4x4. Ten other people were injured. And, once again, it's reported there was a fire.

It was in Deira at 10am yesterday and caused massive traffic jams of course.

Just another day on Dubai's roads.

Discrimination in Dubai

I expect this comment will stir up some unrest...

The question of discrimination in Dubai based on ethnicity comes up all the time, which came to mind as I walked around Satwa the other day.

The unpalatable fact that many refuse to accept is that it's largely imported by expatriates who bring their prejudices with them.

What I find ironic is that the group which in my experience complains longest and loudest is itself one of the most guilty of practicing discrimination.

For example, I came across many signs in Satwa demonstrating discrimination based on not only nationality but also by which area of a country people come from, and by religion.

You'll find the same thing in the Domestic Employment ads in Gulf News, where the majority exclude most job-seekers by specifying nationality and/or area and/or religion. For example:

"Housemaid, South Indian, preferably Keralite, required for a family residing in Sharjah.

Full-time Housemaid, Indian, urgently required for an Indian family in Karama.

Housemaid, Indian / Filipino, required for an Indian family residing Deira.

Think I'm exagerating when I say 'the majority' of ads? Check them out for yourself here.

Yes folks, discrimination is alive and well in Dubai.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Another beach mystery

A mystery to me - does anyone else know what's going on?

The beach at Umm Suqeim the other side of the fishing port from Burj Al Arab looks like this:

Piles of sand, earth-moving equipment, gangs of workers. I couldn't work out whether they were bringing the sand to the beach or taking it away.

But then I saw big bags being loaded with the sand, so I assume it's being taken away:

And a very large area features the ubiquitous red & white plastic - more of a symbol of Dubai than the cranes in my opinion:

So what we have is a large beach area coned off, piles of sand, earth-moving machinery, big bags.

The beach has been eroded along this stretch with the changing water movement caused by the offshore developments. I thought at first they were building it back up, but I'm not so sure.

Any ideas anyone?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Investigation into vehicle fires.

Last month I asked Why so many fires? when we have vehicle accidents here, and ended the posting "Something for the authorities to look into?"

Apparently they are.

Gulf News reports today that "Road safety expert seeks answers to blazes following road accidents and collisions."

Dr. Yaser Hawas, Director of the Roadway, Transportation & Traffic Safety Research Centre in Al Ain, said the occurrence of vehicle fires during accidents is so alarming that it warrants an investigation into the causes.

That's why I wrote about it, I'm sure that we have an unusually high number of vehicle fires in crashes. There has to be a reason and if the reason can be found it can be eliminated.

Dr. Hawas said: "We are examining these accidents to ascertain whether it's a car manufacturing fault, nature of the accident or any other aspect that set the vehicle on fire after the collision."

That really is good to see. Any crash is a terrible thing but I have a real horror of fire and I can't think of anything worse than the vehicles exploding into flames.

The full Gulf News story is here.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The bridge tragedy

Further information has come to light today on the accident in which seven workers constructing a bridge at the entrance to Dubai Marina were killed.

Apparently it wasn't a bridge collapse as reported yesterday. The crane's heavy load of steel frames hit a wall, which collapsed onto nearly thirty workers.

There are two disasters to be faced by the families of the dead, the obvious grief of having lost a loved one being the first. But there's also the practical fact that they were probably the main bread-winner for their families.

At least there's help for them to deal with the second. The company have quickly confirmed that the families will receive ten years' salary in compensation. Medical expenses for the injured will also be paid by the company.

It's small comfort but at least the company seems to be doing the right thing.

It would be nice to think that it's standard practice. I wonder...

Friday, November 09, 2007

Another fatal day in Dubai's construction industry

Seven workers were killed yesterday when part of a bridge under construction collapsed. Twenty-four of their colleagues were injured, although thankfully none of these are said to be serious.

The need for the bridge is because there was oviously a serious planning error in the design of Dubai Marina. On the ocean side, where the beach hotels and Jumeirah Beach Residence are located, there is only a small bridge with one lane in either direction to cross the marina entrance.

The planners incrediby thought that would be enough for tens of thousands of people to come and go.

Let me remind you what JBR looks like, and this is just a very small part of it:

JBR claims to be the world's largest single-phase development with 40 towers, four of which are hotels. It covers a one mile length and will be home to 25,000 people. There are also dozens of towers on the other side of the road, plus more than half a dozen existing hotels. A bridge with one lane in either direction was considered to be sufficient.


We can't blame the RTA for that doozy, it was done long before they were formed. I do hope the people responsible were dealt with harshly.

The cause of yesterday's tragedy is said to be human error - a crane placed a huge load of iron rods on the upper part of the bridge, far too heavy for the under-construction bridge according to a statement from Mattar Al Tayer of the RTA. The seven workers were killed instantly and a fleet of rescue helicopters airlifted the injured to Rashid Hospital.

A committee of officials from the RTA, Dubai Police and Public Prosecutors has been formed to investigate the acident. I hope they include something I've talked about before - site supervision.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

More Salik twists...

I just received a message from Salik that my account needs topping up.

Strange, I thought, I've only been through the tollgates six times, which means I still have Dh26 in my account.

Scrolling through the message I found the answer - which was a surprise. "Balance of 30AED is below the set recharge value." it told me.

Set recharge value? Do we know about this? I didn't. I haven't seen that anywhere. Have I missed it?

Anyway, I went into the website and eventually found the page that lets me manage and top up my account.

Another surprise - I couldn't top it back up to the original Dh50 because the minimum amount accepted is Dh50.

A 'set recharge value' of Dh30 and a minimum top up of Dh50. Have I misssed the information on all this? Does everyone but me know about it?

Monday, November 05, 2007

Good news for construction workers

The Emirates news agency WAM reports some good news from the UAE Cabinet meeting held on Sunday.

The Ministry of Labour was told to collaborate with construction companies to prepare, as a matter of urgency, proposals on the issue of the salaries of workers in the construction sector.

They will also, the Ministry said, ' intensify their inspections of workers' accommodation, noting that some of the housing facilities being provided to workers by some companies are sub-standard and do not meet the conditions and specifications laid down by the laws of the state'.

Ain't that the truth.

Later, The Big Boss, who of course presided over the Cabinet meeting, was at Dubai Municipality. He ordered an increase in the number of inspectors to cover all labour accommodation and he instructed the Municipality to double its efforts to preserve the image of Dubai.

Later, Labour Ministry Assistant Under-Secretary, Humaid bin Deemas, was forthcoming in his statements.

He said the Labour Ministry was following with deep concern the protests being made by workers from a number of construction companies which it was dealing with. It was also committed to taking the necessary measures to bring an end to any form of violation of the law.

He said the Ministry strongly insists that all workers must receive full wages without any deductions, for whatever reason. He said the ministry totally rejects the excuses being given by some companies for their practice of withholding wages. The ministry was determined to eradicate this practice which, he said, was considered by the UAE government to be an unacceptable form of exploitation that is in contravention of the law. He warned that the ministry will impose heavy fines and severe punishments on all those who are found by the supervisory committee to have violated the law.

There are two obvious observations to make I suppose.

One, wouldn't it be nice if we didn't need this kind of enforcement because we all treated each other with respect and honesty. Human nature being what it is, though, far too many people take any advantage they can from other people.

Two, why does it need Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid and the Cabinet to tell the Ministries they need to do what they should be doing as a matter of course?

Salaries not being paid, deductions from salaries, sub-standard accommodation and conditions, all are illegal. It's been going on for years, yet here we are needing a Cabinet directive because the Ministry of Labour isn't on top of it.

If you'd like to read the original WAM reports they are here and here.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

It's raining!

I thought I should record the fact that it rained today.

I can't temember the last time we had rain - sometime last winter obviously - but we had a little bit today. Not what we'd call rain in Australia of course, but enough to leave some wet patches on the ground.

It's apparently the fringe of the weather Oman is getting, and we're getting something we see very rarely, cloudy skies.