100,000 workers moved to 'labour cities'

But some firms complain that new homes costs them Dh600 a man more, and want them in caravans near where they work.

Men gather around a shaded area of a former labour camp in Mohammed bin Zayed City where 400 workers lived until last week when they were relocated to newly erected worker villages.
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ABU DHABIi // As more than 100,000 workers transfer from a camp near Mohammed bin Zayed City to new accommodation, construction companies complained yesterday that the move will cost them time and money.

Abu Dhabi Municipality has told contractors to shift their workers to specially built labour cities by September 17. But the companies say the new developments, although providing more amenities, can cost them an additional Dh600 per person per month. Bassim Abu Zain, the general manager of the construction contractor Detco, said his company could not renew its trade licence unless it proved that its labourers were in a new camp near Al Mafraq, 45 minutes from the city.

"They gave us this limit of three months to solve our problems and go to this place in Al Mafraq," he said. "They will not accept your work if you don't bring any documents saying your labourers are living in this camp." Yesterday, the municipality said it had built infrastructure and roads for the new camps. "They're better, everything is available there," a spokesman said. For some companies, however, accommodation fees will triple to about Dh900 a worker each month at new camps in Al Mafraq.

The operational manager of a company with 700 labourers said: "The charges are too expensive. It's more than double the price if I want to keep him in a rented room in the Mussafah Industrial City. "We have a huge camp that we built there, but it's all caravans. In three months, we have to remove it all. Each caravan was Dh25,000. If you want to sell one, it's Dh5,000 to Dh6,000." Although companies agreed that the new sites had better facilities, they preferred workers' lodgings to be near worksites.

"It's cheaper and you are not wasting time to get them on a bus from Mussafah to Al Mafraq, and back and forth," Mr Abu Zain said. "It will take around 30 to 40 minutes on the bus, and there's too much traffic. If you're a worker, you have to wake up at six in the morning to be at Mussafah." Another concern was that his 60 workers might struggle to find housing because of the small size of his company.

Detco employees were denied housing at the compound's largest camp, Raha Village, which had the capacity for 35,000 people, he said. "The rules there were that they don't accept companies with less than 100 people," he said. "Then where should they go?" Jad Saad, Raha Village's facility manager, said the demand for housing prompted the camp to change its 100-worker minimum policy. The facility was accepting workers from companies with as few as 20 people. About 6,000 people live in Raha Village, most of whom were relocated from New Mussafah. Another 16,000 workers from 100 companies were ready to move, Mr Saad said.

"There is nothing they need we don't provide here," he said. "All they need to do is bring their clothes." Although Raha Village has a hospital, mall, mosque, and recreational facilities, there is no transport to Abu Dhabi. "The Government is building a bus route, which will be right in front," Mr Saad said. In July 2009, Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce said companies housing labourers in New Mussafah would need to move them within two months, as the area was being developed. Companies asked for an extension and complained about expensive rents.

Ten housing complexes have been built in areas such as Al Mafraq, near the Hamim bridge, and along the road to Al Ain. Most workers have been moved to their new housing during the past six months. Gil Pagkaliwangan, the facility manager of Al Geemi camp in Al Mafraq, which opened two months ago, said it was one-third full. The site can accommodate up to 4,000 people. "The municipality provided everything in the facility - the Etisalat tower, the bus station, big malls, restaurants, everything you want," he said.

At the deserted camp at New Mussafah, Pakistani lorry drivers on a break said 400 people had recently relocated. "We had a warning, a month ago, that we would be moving," said Ali Maseed, 27. "The company took care of everything. We had no problems. We just went to our new place." Zonescorp, the Government-backed organisation that operates the camps, was not available for comment. @Email:mkwong@thenational.ae