'Labour camps are a microcosm of a city, except it is a city of men'

Workers' camps are like a mini-metropolis; a melting pot of languages, nationalities and cultures. Helping a camp run smoothly requires a certain amount of finesse as it is important that workers get along.

ABU DHABI // Workers' camps are like a mini-metropolis; a melting pot of languages, nationalities and cultures. Helping a camp run smoothly requires a certain amount of finesse as it is important that workers get along. Adsecc, an Abu Dhabi-based security firm, employs 300 security guards and supervises more than 60,000 workers in camps in and around the capital. "Labour camps are a microcosm of a city, except it is a city of men," said Charles Mallice, the director of operations and training for Adsecc.

"Problems there are inherent. They will always be there but we are on the front lines. We are not the police but with effective management, we prevent escalation." Among the Adsecc guards is an imam, someone an agitated crowd might listen to. The company also identifies people within the camp that other workers might listen to or seek for advice. "You are lining up, you are sitting together watching a cricket match. There is always tension there," said Nikolai Ehlers, a regional security operations manager with Adsecc. "All it takes is a spark or an excuse to go at each other. The reasons are always there but it is how to get it under control."

The design of a camp is also critical to control the inward flow of goods - legal and illegal, said Steven Polifko, the director of administration and development for Adsecc. There should be enough space to allow for an evacuation plan in case of a fire or other emergency. The flow of traffic is also monitored to prevent alcohol being smuggled inside. "We have direct contact with the guards on the ground. We try to change the way [contractors] view security," Mr Polifko said.

"Security impacts across the board. If a generator is down, it may be a mechanical issue but it becomes a security issue when there is no electricity in a camp at night. Trucks speeding through a camp is a problem. "With people walking around, you don't want that and you want the central supply unit of the camp not to be in the centre of the camp because that is where vehicles go to deliver and pick up. Instead, they should be in the perimeter."

The company holds town-hall style meetings to give workers information on upcoming events or changes in administration. Most workers, Mr Mallice said, appreciated being kept aware of changes. "A majority of the people are here to work and send money home," Mr Ehlers said. "They have gone through a lot to get here and land the job. They appreciate what you are doing as long as you let them know what you are doing."

Security guards are also encouraged to help workers when they can. In some cases workers who cannot read will bring letters to the guards who tell them what the letters say. "We don't want guards to see this as some sort of a dead-end job where they are not challenged, where they check the gate and nothing else," said Mr Mallice. "Gate guards, we are not."

sbhattacharya@thenational.ae