Minimum standards for labour camps
Loveday Morris and Praveen Menon
Last Updated: June 08. 2009 11:48PM UAE / June 8. 2009 7:48PM GMT
Outside the workers accommodations in a labour camp on July 17, 2008. Philip Cheung / The National
ABU DHABI // Labour camps will have to meet new minimum requirements, including restrictions on the number of workers per room, under new regulations passed yesterday.As of September, municipalities will deny permits to new camps that fail to comply with the Manual of the General Criteria for the Workers’ Accommodation, according to a Cabinet decision announced yesterday.
Companies with existing camps will have five years to upgrade existing accommodation to the new standards.The manual, produced by the Ministry of Labour, sets out guidelines covering everything from health and safety and building materials to air-conditioning, personal space and bathroom facilities.Each camp must have a medical clinic “with full services” and with medical practitioners available 24 hours a day, including on religious and national holidays. No more than 10 workers can live in a room.
The decision shows the government’s commitment to “stamp out negative practices” that damage public interests and “derail the government plans to enhance human rights in general and workers’ rights in particular”, said Humaid bin Deemas, the director of the ministry.“This is not the first initiative of the government, and certainly will not be the last.”Mr Deemas said the ministry would try to ensure that companies did not take advantage of the five-year grace period, which he said had been granted “taking into account the requirements and challenges of the labour market and the current environment”.
“The ministry will make sure that the grace period and the gradual implementation will not be at the expense of workers and their rights,” he said.Labour conditions have come under scrutiny in recent years and the country has faced pressure to raise standards following criticism by foreign media and human rights organisations. A BBC documentary in March claimed that workers on some construction projects in Dubai were working in “inhumane conditions”.
The new guidelines supersede a similar set of minimum standards announced by Dubai Municipality in July 2007 that gave companies three years to improve conditions. Municipal inspectors had already been carrying out random checks and fining those not complying with their standards but the new national regulations give companies five years to comply. The Dubai Municipality said it would be happy to enforce the new regulations, which it said are little changed from its own.
“The federal authority has issued the rule and the local authority will be happy to ensure it is implemented,” said Salem bin Mesmar, the city’s assistant director general for health, safety and environment control. “Many camps already have these standards. However, there are some others who are still to comply.” Whereas Dubai said each workers must have 40 square feet (3.7 square metres) in personal space, the new guidelines reduce that to three metres.
According to the new rules, a bathroom with two toilets must be provided for every eight people. A shower area and laundry area should also be provided for every eight people.A kitchen “conforming to recognised public health standards” should be in every camp. All buildings must be brick or concrete and be at a “safe distance” from pollution and noise. Buildings should occupy a maximum of 65 per cent of the complex leaving the rest for parking, recreation, walkways and green space.
A shop and TV room should be on site.