UAE :Ministry Helps Stranded Workers in Abu Dhabi

Source : The National

Ministry helps stranded workers

Former employees of Otaiba al Gurg Contracting have been living without jobs for six months at a labour camp in Mohammed bin Zayed City. Ryan Carter / The National

ABU DHABI - JUL 15:The Ministry of Labour says it is working to help scores of workers find new jobs after they were stranded for six months without pay in their labour camp when their employer went bust.

Humaid bin Deemas, the ministry’s acting director general, said in a written answer to questions that it would help the men find alternative work and waive the Dh10,000 (US$2,700) fee for transferring their sponsorship. They would instead be charged Dh1,000 for new work permits.

Some of the workers, who claim they are owed more than Dh50,000 in retirement benefits and back pay, are refusing to move, and instead have taken the insolvent company to court.

What used to be a thriving group of more than 300 labourers working for Otaiba al Gurg Contracting, housed in three labour camps on the outskirts of Mohammed bin Zayed City, has now dwindled to 128 men who have been left destitute, without access to basic food and water supplies.

Most had been with the company for more than a decade. Otaiba al Gurg had been in business since 1977 but suddenly stopped operating last year.

About half of the original group either took jobs with new companies or returned to their home countries after taking the company to court last year to win their release from their contracts.

The rest, fearing that they could lose their benefits if they transferred to a new job, waited until March before approaching the ministry. They were referred to the Labour Court in Musaffah a month later, and their cases are still pending.

They have been in legal limbo since January, when the company ceased to exist.

Mr bin Deemas said a report by the ministry’s inspection committee had determined that the business had in effect gone bankrupt.

The Indian partners of the company, Ashok Mittal, and Jai Prakash Gurg, are believed to have absconded to India, according to reports from the workers, the Indian Embassy and the workers’ lawyer.

The embassy said one of the pair was expected to return to the UAE next week to meet with embassy officials.

The Emirati partner is reported to have died.

Ansari Sainudeen, an advocate with Al Fajer legal consultants, has been representing the 128 remaining workers at the Musaffah Labour Court since May.

He said it was the first time he had seen a case of abandonment on such a large scale by a previously reputable company.

“This is a special case,” he said. “These are exceptional circumstances.

“If you look at the age of the workers, you will see they have been with the company for a long time. They had expectations of getting retirement benefits when they decided to retire.”

He said there were no “respondents” in the case, alluding to the insolvent company. “But now the case is before the judge and it depends on the court.”

Mr bin Deemas said some workers had not accepted a transfer to a different company within the UAE because they believed it would cost them their right to recover their salaries and benefits even though, he said, “their rights are guaranteed as long as their case stands before court”.

Some workers are asking the court to award an end-of-service benefit; these will be judged individually, depending on details such as designation, duration of work and work status.

The sum will vary between Dh16,000 and Dh56,000, said Mr Sainudeen.

The men also hope to receive back pay for up to six months of between Dh600 and Dh1,500 per month.

By law, employers pay for their employees’ return tickets upon completion or termination of contracts, but in this case, Mr Sainudeen said, the court would decide how to issue tickets.

“There will be liquidation of their assets. Through this, tickets will be paid.”

Meanwhile, Abdul al Tenaiji, the head of communication and PR for the Abu Dhabi Red Crescent, has directed his department to give each stranded worker Dh1,000.

He has also prepared a budget to cover their medical costs and provide basic food supplies to the camp.

“We studied the problem before we moved,” said Mr al Tenaiji. “This is a terrible humanitarian situation. We hope to solve it soon.”

The Red Crescent has so far provided more than Dh5,000-worth of food and other supplies, including bringing a doctor to the camp on Monday night to detail the men’s health problems.

Answers scarce in children’s deaths

Nathan D´Souza, 5, died on June 13 and his eight-year-old sister Chelsea died the next day.

DUBAI - JUL 15: Friends and relatives of a brother and sister who died of suspected food poisoning remembered the children’s lives at a church service last night.

The early evening mass at St Mary’s Church in Dubai marked the month anniversary of the deaths of Nathan, five, and Chelsea D’Souza, eight. The results of an investigation into their treatment at a private hospital are pending.

Patrick D’Souza yesterday confirmed the investigation by the Dubai Health Authority was ongoing and that further tests ordered by prosecutors into what killed his two children had not been completed.

“We don’t have any news,” he said. “They said it would take time. We don’t know how long, but at the moment we are just coping with the pain and trying to move on with our lives. We are not bothered with these things. We have enough to deal with.”

A source from the legal affairs department at the Dubai Health Authority said it had collected files from the New Medical Centre Specialty Hospital where the children were treated, but was still waiting for reports from Dubai Police and the results of the post-mortem examinations.

“We are not able to proceed until we have all the reports,” the source said. “We will not question the doctors concerned until we know how to angle our questions, based on the laboratory tests. These have been sent abroad and always take some time to come back – it is not a quick process. We have not made any conclusions at all. This is not an easy case, as it was an unexpected event. It will take time to reach conclusions.”

Mr D’Souza said last night’s mass, which he and his wife, Ana Sophia, attended, simply memorialised the deaths of his children one month ago. The two fell ill, along with their mother and a housekeeper, on June 12 after eating a meal delivered from a restaurant serving Chinese food in Al Qusais.

They were rushed to the nearby hospital, where they were treated and later released.

Nathan was returned to the hospital the following morning after his condition worsened, but was dead on arrival. His sister was moved to Dubai Hospital, where she was treated, but died on June 14.

After autopsies, their bodies were flown to France, where they were buried on June 29. A few of the siblings’ close friends, along with the housekeeper and work colleagues of Mr D’Souza, attended, as well as family from India.

The children were laid to rest in white coffins; many of their toys, including fairy wings, were placed in the grave with them.

The restaurant at which they ate was closed by Dubai Municipality soon after the deaths, and managers yesterday said they had not yet been given any indication when it would be allowed to reopen.


Bus shelters switch off when hot


People wait to board a bus outside a non-working air-conditioned bus shelter, where the inside temperature is warmer than on the street. Jeff Topping / The National

DUBAI - JUL 15: They are designed to do one thing, and one thing only: provide a cool refuge from the searing summer heat.

It has even been promised that the city’s much-heralded air-conditioned bus shelters could help persuade motorists to give up their cars and try public transport.

Yet there stood Gert Misker on a recent workday, working up a sweat as he waited inside one of Jumeirah Beach Road’s glass-walled structures.

“It’s like a sauna in here,” said the 35-year-old from the Netherlands.

A recent check revealed more than half of the shelters located along the main artery – 10 out of 17 – were not air-conditioned at all. Bizarrely, when contacted, the company that operates them blamed the malfunctions on the high summer heat, which is precisely why bus passengers need their cooling interiors now more than ever.

“Extreme outside temperatures can cause technical difficulties at some shelters, causing the air-conditioners to trip at intervals,” said Right Angle Media.

More than 500 of the air-conditioned shelters have been built so far in the emirate to entice people onto the bus.

They will become more important once the Metro opens in September, when the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) will add 41 feeder bus routes.

Mattar al Tayer, chief executive of the RTA, said Dubai would be the first city in the world to “offer luxury of air-conditioned bus shelters for passengers” when he viewed the prototype in 2006.

Naveer Pasha, from India and one of the passengers at the bus stop opposite the York International Hotel, was not having any of it.

“It is all a show,” she said. “None of these shelters work, and we have to wait out here all the time for buses that are late.”

Along Jumeirah Beach Road, most shelters without air conditioning were empty, unlike the ones that worked.

“It usually takes 10 to 15 minutes to get a bus,” said Owu Homg from China, who had found one with AC, “but I am not going to walk to find an air-conditioned shelter. If it doesn’t work, I will have to stand outside.”

Shria Khan from Pakistan was more forgiving.

“Before we didn’t have these air-conditioned shelters,” she said from inside the chilled shelter, “and so what if they don’t work? It was a lot worse before they were introduced.” Meanwhile Abu Dhabi’s 20 new bus shelters, located around Muroor and Airport roads and Al Falah Street, were up and running yesterday.

“It gets a little hot when the sun is hitting the [glass] walls,” said one woman as she dashed off to catch her bus.

“It’s better than nothing.”

There were complaints about the doors, which require passengers to hit a button so they can be activated.

“Some people don’t know that to open the door, you need to push a button,” said Rodel Intia, 37, a Filipino restaurant manager at TGI Fridays. “So people start pushing, or pulling, or sliding, or shouting at the door.”

Right Angle Media won the Dh17.5 million (US$4.8m) per annum contract to construct the Dubai shelters and run them for 10 years in 2006.

The contract included Dh3.5m a year for maintenance. For now, it has asked patrons to close the doors after them to keep the cold air in.

“With assistance from commuters in using the shelters correctly, Right Angle can prevent this disruption from recurring,” it said.

Don’t react to bullies on roads, says Khalid

ABU DHABI - JUL 15: The country’s top rally driver has appealed to motorists to keep a cool head when confronted by aggressive driving.

Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi, who is ranked 12th in the FIR World Rally Championship and is also the public face of the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi’s Drive Safe, Save Lives campaign, said drivers who reacted to bad driving risked causing accidents.

“If the guy’s going really crazy and wants to pass the speed limit, if the roads are open and there are no cars in your path, it would be best to pull out of the way and just let him go,” Sheikh Khalid said.

“When responding to an aggressive driver who tries to threaten you and comes very close to you, the most important thing is not to respond but to let him go.

“You want to avoid the same behaviour because you may yourself cause an accident.”

Sheikh Khalid made the comments after examining a video showing bad driving recorded by The National.

In it, an alarmingly high number of traffic laws are shown being broken during a three-hour commute, starting from the capital and on to the main motorway to Dubai, including rampant speeding and overtaking on both the left and right hard shoulders. The footage also supports the findings of a World Health Organisation report, released last month, that found UAE roads to be some of the world’s deadliest.

It shows scores of motorists blatantly disregarding the safety of others. In trying to overtake slower-moving traffic, for example, many flashed blindingly bright high beams and tailgated vehicles at uncomfortably close ranges.

At one point, a white Toyota Land Cruiser is filmed trying to intimidate the camera crew’s four-by-four, following it with flashing high beams and, after five minutes of bullying the vehicle, attempting to run it off the road.

Much as the victim of such road rage would want to respond, Sheikh Khalid said it was best to let aggressors pass by for the authorities – or worse, a traffic accident – to deal with their behaviour.

“You might want to react, but if you hit your brakes hard, that may well cause an accident, too,” he said.

“Whenever you follow the law, you’re in the right; and you’ll not only save yourself from an accident, you’ll save others from such an outcome.”

Part of this required ensuring your own safety and that of fellow passengers, first and foremost by always remembering to buckle up. “The most important thing is for everyone to wear their safety belts,” he said.

“This is a fairly new concept in this country, when compared to Europe. It may be annoying when you first wear one, but I promise you’ll get used to it.”

Sheikh Khalid also had advice for would-be traffic offenders, particularly people who use the hard shoulder for overtaking.

“Whenever you overtake a car in the emergency lane, that’s really dangerous because there might be a car parked there. There might be an accident, someone who had a flat tyre. That’s why they call it an emergency lane.”

UAE swine flu total now 47 – all fully recovered

ABU DHABI - JUL 15: Twenty new patients who were diagnosed with swine flu made full recoveries and have been discharged from hospital, WAM, the state news agency, reported yesterday.

On July 11, the Ministry of Health announced that all 27 people reported to have the virus in the UAE had recovered. The latest cases bring the total to 47, all of whom have recovered, health officials told the higher supervisory committee combating the H1N1 virus yesterday.

Swine flu is potentially lethal for the young and elderly, as well as those with weakened immune systems.

At the meeting, presided over by the Minister of Health, Dr Hanif Hassan Ali, officials also reviewed the health awareness plan for the forthcoming haj and umrah to be launched in co-ordination with the General Authority for Islamic Affairs and Endowment and other similar campaigns aimed at schools, universities and colleges.

The committee instructed the health ministry to publish an update on the virus every Monday and to proceed with its health awareness plans.

Newspapers in India, Libya and Syria have reported more swine flu cases involving people who had travelled through Dubai. Cases of the illness in Hyderabad reached 31, with eight new reports including a two-year-old boy who arrived from Dubai.

Nineteen new cases were reported in India on Monday, bringing the number of H1N1-infected people to 212 so far.

Libya reported its first swine flu case on July 5, which involved a worker who arrived from Thailand via Dubai. The following day, Syria’s first swine flu patient was a woman who had flown home from Australia via Dubai at the end of June.

The Emirates’ first swine flu patient was an academic from UAE University in Al Ain who had been on a visit to Canada.

The man was treated at Al Ain’s Tawam Hospital and discharged in May.



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