Dubai to restrict cramped camps

Inspectors say 40 per cent of workers' accommodation is still substandard and some sites will be closed if necessary.

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DUBAI // New labour camps will have to limit the number of workers they can put in one room and have minimum living standards, the head of the Dubai Municipality said yesterday. Announcing a new set of regulations for the camps, Hussain Nasser Lootah said existing camps that failed inspections would be fined and could eventually be shut down.

"Standards have been set for the number of people living in each room depending on room size in all new camps," said Mr Lootah, the municipality's director general. "Also, there would be new regulations in areas like service and maintenance inside these camps. There are lots of new labour camps coming up in the city and they would all have to meet these new living standards." Worker accommodations have recently come under an international spotlight. A BBC documentary shown earlier this month claimed that some construction workers were living in "inhumane conditions".

Municipal officials said yesterday that more than 500 labour accommodations in Dubai over the past two years and found 40 per cent to be substandard. They said the new rules called for each worker to have at least 40 square feet of living space and at least one bathroom per eight employees. Other regulations set cleanliness standards for areas where food is prepared, and provide for medical and recreational facilities.

They said the emirate's 36 inspectors were continuing visit the camps, some of which were built in the 1970s. The municipality last year launched a three-year plan to bring all its camps in line with minimum standards, including a specific plan for the large Sonapur camp. "The routine inspections continue in these camps and we are giving notices and issuing fines to camp owners who are violating the living standards," Mr Lootah said.

Officials from the municipality's buildings inspection department warned that labour camps operators faced severe penalties if they did not meet the new standards. It said it had ordered random checks in such areas as Jebel Ali, Muhaisnah, and Al Quoz. Omar Mohammed Abdul Rahman, the head of the department, said: "If the inspectors report any problem at a camp, we immediately issue a notice to the owner and ask them to rectify it. If they do not obey, further action will be taken even leading to closure of such camps."

Mr Rahman said at least two inspectors were carrying out checks in each area. "These inspectors specialise in checking labour camps and they conduct random inspections to ensure everything is in order," he said. In addition to random checks, there are regular inspections every three days, he said. On the issue of sewage problems in some camps, which was raised by the BCC programme, Mr Rahman said: "We know there are some problems and we are dealing with them effectively. We are concerned about the well-being of the people living in these camps."

Overflowing septic tanks have caused flooding of sewage water near, and even inside, labour accommodation over the past few months. Mr Rahman stressed that inspections were a matter of routine. "Our inspections are not based on any media report," he said. "There are thousands of buildings in Dubai and our inspectors are working constantly to check all of them. If there is a problem they immediately alert us."