Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Five years to improve workers' accommodation

WAM Abu Dhabi, Jun. 8, 2009 (WAM) -- As part of its commitment to protect workers' rights and improve the standards of workers' accommodation in line with international standards, the Cabinet, in a latest initiative, has issued Decision No. 13 of 2009, approving the manual of the General Criteria for the Workers' Accommodations.

The new manual sets out minimum standards, which I'm sure most of us would have expected to already be provided but which in many cases aren't.

It's a good step forward in an area that's long needed improvement and it's comprehensive in covering many subjects that needed set minimum standards.

It specifies building materials, covers water systems, sewerage, air-conditioning, lighting systems, elevators, emergency exits, fire extinguisher systems and indoor air quality. At least thirty-five percent of the total space must be allocated for entertainment, parking, yards, walkways and green spaces. Each accommodation complex should have its own mini market and playgrounds.

While the minimum standards are an improvement on what's often been provided in the past they're way below what many of us would consider acceptable. But, they are acceptable to many others and that's where the old argument crops up again. Where you're from, what you're used to, whether it's an improvement on that comes into it.

No space is a point that jumps out at me, because plenty of space, whether indoors or outside, is a thing with me.

Here's what the manual says about space:

Respecting the need for personal space, "it is essential for the facility owner to assign a minimum of three square metres in each room to accommodate a bed, side table and wardrobe for each worker living in the complex. The number of workers allowed in each room, should not exceed eight to ten, with a commitment to provide individual space for each one of them."

Three square metres. About eight feet by four feet. Pace it out and see how little that is.

In it, fit a person, a bed, a side table and a wardrobe.

I can't.

It needs a larger minimum space, but I can't see many companies volunteering to increase their costs by providing it if they don't have to.

(An interesting side note is that Dubai's minimum standards which are already in place say that each worker should have 3.7 square metres, or 40 square feet, of space).

Health & safety comes in, including that each accommodation must include its own medical clinic equipped with full services and medical practitioners available 24x7. It also gets into details of cleaning, laundry facilities, bathrooms & toilets, supply of bathroom toiletries, towels and so on.

Apart from the tiny space most of it makes sense to me. The time frame for improving existing conditions doesn't though.

This presumably refers to new accommodation:

With effect from the beginning of September 2009, Municipality departments will not issue any permit for workers' housing across the country, including free zones, unless those facilities fall in accordance with this cabinet decision and any related provisions issued by the Minister of Labour.

For existing accommodation the manual says:

The decision stresses the employers' responsibility to provide workers' accommodation commensurate with the international labour standards. Each facility operating in the country should upgrade its current workers' accommodation conditions to comply with these standards. Employers are given a maximum period of five years, commencing on the day the decision comes into force.

Five years?

That's over generous, surely.

In five years we see massive new shopping malls built. We see whole new residential neighbourhoods completed. We see mini-cities built and operating.

Worker accommodation is not a profit centre, it's a cost. You can understand why employers are reluctant to invest any more than the absolute minimum in it. That's where legislation needs to push it along, not only in setting minimum standards but also in the timeframe.

As The National points out in its report, Dubai's existing minimum standards had a time limit of three years. Now there are new rules with an even longer grace period.

If a company has five years to build a new labour camp and it takes (let's be generous) a year to build, do you think they'll start now? Or do you think they'd defer the cost for four years and start then, opening the smart new camp just before the deadline?

All the news outlets seem to be carrying the story. The two I've mentioned are here: WAM and The National.


ZeTallGerman said...

I read this and rolled my eyes... as you said: FIVE years? And naturally these steps are only being taken after the international media got involved, regardless of the fact that the local media & bloggers have been critisizing the utter lack of basic human rights for these labourers for YEARS.
So, they have until 2014 to give these guys 'acceptable' living standards. Guess when most of the projects are due to be completed? You got it: 2012 / 2013. Smart move.

Catalin said...

5 years?! They built the metro in 4!

Anonymous said...

The thing I can't believe is anyone actually buys buildings in Dubai that are made by these workers. What sort of standards of construction are you getting from an uneducated workforce that lives in appalling conditions for years on end.