UAE : Workers to be Banned if they Lose Labour Cases


Workers to be banned if they lose labour cases

UAE - AUG - 03: Workers who lose cases in labour courts will be banned from working in the country for a year, the Ministry of Labour said last night.

In a statement published on the ministry’s website, Saif al Suwaidi, the acting director of labour affairs, said the move was an attempt to cut the number of malicious cases filed.

He said sacked labourers were taking advantage of the rule that currently allows them a temporary work permit while a labour dispute is pending.

At present, if a case is lost, the worker must leave the country, but there is little to prevent him from getting another job and returning almost immediately.

The changes mean a worker who has lost his case will not be allowed to work in the UAE again for a year after the verdict. On top of that, he will have to pay court costs and legal fees.

A total of 2,658 “higher” disputes – for claims of Dh100,000 (US$27,000) or more – and lower disputes (less than Dh100,000) were registered at the Dubai Labour Courts between January 1 and June 15 this year.

That compares with 2,853 throughout last year, although the number of cases lost by complainants is not known.

Dust takes its toll on nation’s health

ABU DHABI - AUG 03: Doctors are reporting an increase in the number of patients suffering from respiratory and eye problems as a haze of dust continues to shroud the UAE.

One of the country’s leading medical experts on respiratory illnesses yesterday advised patients with severe breathing problems to avoid going outside, warning that the dust could aggravate their symptoms.

Dr Bassam Mahboub, the vice president of the UAE Respiratory Society, said roughly 15 per cent of the UAE’s 4.8 million residents suffered from asthma.

The current hazy conditions from recent dust storms would make it even more difficult for some people to catch their breath, he added.

Asked if the dust would inflame the chronic airways disorder, Dr Mahboub said: “Absolutely. I’ve been seeing more and more patients in my clinic because of this weather. For those people who have severe asthma or allergies or diseases, they probably should try to remain indoors.”

Mafraq Hospital in Abu Dhabi reported a surge in patients admitted to the emergency room with problems caused by the dust.

“Yes, we have had an increase,” said Dr Anwar Sallam, the acting medical director of the hospital. “These have mainly been patients with respiratory problems, particularly people with asthma.”

He said asthmatics should avoid spending time outside whenever possible until the dust cleared. If they must go outside, they should carry inhalers. “If a labourer has asthma, he should try and get a doctor’s note signing him off work,” Dr Sallam added.

According to the Middle East-Asia Allergy Asthma Immunology Congress, allergies can cost the Middle East and North Africa region more than US$2.5 billion (Dh9.1bn) annually in medical costs, time off work and lost productivity.

Dr Sallam said poor air quality was the second most common trigger for asthma attacks in children, with the common cold being number one.

Dr Nihanth, a general practitioner who was the attending physician in the emergency department of Abu Dhabi’s NMC Hospital in the past two days, said face masks would help to a degree.

“Wearing some masks will help prevent asthma, because this sort of dust is an aggravating factor in asthma attacks,” he said.

It is not only people with breathing problems who have been suffering.

Eye-care specialists in Dubai said they were seeing more patients with dry, irritated eyes and complaints of conjunctivitis.

Sandstorms were often to blame, said Dr Edmondo Borasio, a corneal specialist with the Moorfields Eye Hospital in Dubai.


“Definitely when you have the sandstorms, you can have the increase in this type of benign conjunctivitis,” he said.

“I also feel like I have ‘foreign body sensation’ in the eyes,” he added, referring to the feeling of having a large speck of dust scratching the cornea. The sensation was usually due to the eyes being dry.

“We’ve been seeing quite a few more patients coming in the past week, very likely related to the sandstorms.”


Small dust particles blowing through the air could get lodged in people’s eyes, causing conjunctivitis.

Eye drops usually alleviated the problem.

“Dust does increase the number of conjunctivitis cases,” said Dr Benham Yahmai, an opthamologist at Health Care Medical Centre. “This usually happens because of the wind and small particles like sand being exposed to the eye.”

He advised people concerned about their eyes to keep them well lubricated with drops or wear sunglasses to protect them.

The dusty weather and poor visibility forced the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company to halt crude exports from its Jebel Dhanna terminal over the weekend, according to reports.

The export terminal remained closed yesterday due to bad weather, which also scuppered some residents’ holiday plans.

“I have a month’s vacation now and my vacation is ruined,” said Waleed al Madani, a student at UAE University. “The sandstorm has made it worse.”

Mr al Madani, who has lived in the UAE all his life, said although he was used to the storms they were still a major inconvenience.

“I cleaned my car yesterday but now I’m going to have to clean it again,” he said.

Rachel Morley, 34, from the UK, blamed the dusty conditions for keeping her indoors for most of her weekend.

“We haven’t seen a storm like this for some time,” said the property agent, who has lived in Abu Dhabi for four years. “I’ve not been out so much because of it.”

Oly Sakr, 39, a Lebanese property developer, was resigned to the fact that the lifestyle comes with the territory. “It’s annoying to your eyes, but what can I do?” she said. “That’s the country. It’s full of desert and sand.”

Hotline that is not so hot

ABU DHABI - AUG 3: If the pavement outside your house is full of potholes, or the walls are emblazoned with lewd graffiti, the solution should be simple: call the municipality’s free hotline on 993 and the problem will be fixed in no more than a month and a half.

The reality, The National has discovered, is somewhat different. While calls may generate plenty of talk, they often result in minimal action.

Officials charged with following up complaints blame red tape and the shirking of responsibility for the slow and often non-existent response to callers’ concerns.

Municipal records show that the volume of hotline calls to Abu Dhabi’s complaints centre more than tripled in the last two years.

Officials have described the call centre as a 24-hour “emergency hotline”, whereby people can report concerns such as animal welfare violations, illegal bachelor residences, after-hours noise, obscene graffiti and road obstructions.

But Abu Dhabi Municipality’s customer service department said bureaucracy was bogging down requests for action.

Although a municipal official said grievances should take “maximum one month and a half” to put right via the call centre, there were no quick fixes for some complaints.

In June, The National told the municipality that it would test the response time of 993 in the coming weeks. Over 60 days, reporters alerted 993 operators to problems harmful to the city’s image.

Not one of the concerns – which included lewd graffiti, a hazardous pavement, a hole in the road and a street sign blocking motorists’ views of oncoming traffic – was fixed within a month and a half.

Reporters were never called back by the municipality, despite assurances that they would be.

One request for action was terminated, according to an operator, because the reporter did not check back within a certain time.

However, the reporter had not been instructed to do so. She had to refile her grievance.

“Some cases take one hour, some one day, some one week,” said Mohammed al Marr, who heads the customer services department.

“Work on a damaged road needs to be prepared with consultants, contractors, and things that might impact tenders. So it is in the hands of others.”

With the capital’s rapidly increasing population, the seven hotline operators were answering more calls than ever, he said.

In 2006, the first year that the 993 call centre began keeping statistics, it recorded 1,299 complaints.

That leapt to 4,490 in 2007, then to 6,110 last year. In the first seven months of this year, it took 2,658 calls.

Statistics were not available for the number of unresolved reports under processing. “If there is no change, it means the case is still open,” Mr al Marr said.

Despite the call centre taking around 13 calls a day, few people appear to be aware of the service.

A straw poll conducted last week at Al Wahda Mall found that only four out of 60 people had heard of 993.

Mohammed al Jazzar, a 35-year-old Egyptian, was unaware of the hotline’s existence.

He reported a collapsed pavement near his furniture shop to the municipality two years ago, but nothing was done. He has seen pedestrians stumble there but, fortunately, no one has been injured.

“This is dangerous,” he said, gesturing towards the crater at the corner of Mohamed bin Khalifa Street and Airport Road.

“If you are walking at night, you could fall down unless you are careful. I think it’s getting deeper.”

Mr al Jazzar estimated that fixing the hole would take only hours. The National called 993 about the hole on June 10, then reported it three more times over several weeks.

A reporter called again on Saturday but could not find an attendant who spoke English. The hole has yet to be repaired.

Hotline operators recently handled reports of problems at Al Maqta Bridge.

“A guy said there were some defects on the joints of the bridge, so he kept calling us because he thought such kind of work would be done in hours,” Mr al Marr said.

“Such work goes around this circle of procedures – consultants, contractors, tenders – and this requires a lot of money and cannot just be approved within one day or four days.”

When Abu Dhabi Municipality launched its first anti-graffiti campaign in May, it urged residents to telephone 993 if they spotted areas that needed to be whitewashed. Osama Samara, 19, lives in one building tagged with lewd graffiti. The Palestinian student said the unsightly scrawls in his neighbourhood in Al Mussala harmed the capital’s image and should be repainted as soon as possible, but “nobody wants the responsibility” for the job.

“The one who’s responsible for cleaning this is the building manager or the watchman, but, if they don’t do anything, they have to call the baladia [municipality].”

He feared that different parties would merely transfer responsibility from one to another until the problem was forgotten.

“Maybe they will say this building manager has the responsibility to clean. Then nobody will clean this,” said Mr Samara.

But the hotline does have its successes. During excavation work at Salam Street, authorities made sure it was available to nearby residents and businesses who were suffering due to the construction.

Vera Nur, 18, said her friend, Tania Gilmore, 19, from Britain, had a positive experience contacting the municipality after window cleaners at a neighbouring building caused soapy water to drip on to her car below.

“Her car was messed up, it was covered in soap and you couldn’t even see out the windows,” said Ms Nur, from Ukraine.

“We saw the commercials and the billboards for 993, so we called and some people came two days later and put up a warning, saying, ‘Be careful of parking here because they’re washing the windows.’ They were very friendly.”

Mr al Marr recalled: “Some time ago, a lady told us there were some Quranic verses written on a board in a shop that was on the ground near the feet of the shoppers.

“We removed the board and put it on a nearby wall.”

The most common calls to 993 are requests to clear fallen branches, sand or oil slicks on motorways, he said. Residents have also complained about ruptured water mains.

At the moment, 993 attendants are required only to speak Arabic. Some spoke limited English, said Mr al Marr, and the municipality might look into hiring people with other language skills.

The system was being upgraded this summer to have an automated voice messaging system, he added.

Callers will be able to either speak directly to operators or record messages. They will also be able to report complaints by e-mail or text message.


Shattered windows spark safety fears

DUBAI - AUG - 03: Windows in high-rise apartment blocks are spontaneously breaking because of a combination of shoddy workmanship and inadequate building regulations, construction experts say.

“I came home from work and it was smashed, and I’m not quite sure how or why,” said Nina, 38, a Briton, who found a half metre-long window damaged in her one-bedroom flat on the 36th floor of a tower in New Dubai.

“On the ground there were a few splinters, but it was more the window being cracked while still in the frame.”

According to experts, Nina was probably the victim of building contractors who had improperly fitted window panes.

Large temperature fluctuations then caused the metal frames to expand and contract, straining the glass beyond its breaking point, they believe.

The problem is compounded by insufficient building regulations with regards to window installation, they say, leaving standards to be decided by contractors and developers.

“There are some incredibly bad practices – contractors who don’t know what they’re doing, putting things together in ways that are completely unacceptable,” said Tom Bell-Wright, founder and owner of Thomas Bell-Wright International Consultants, which specialises in building facades.

“As far as regulations are concerned about installing windows and glass, there aren’t any.”

Asked if such regulations were maintained by Dubai Municipality, Kamal Azayam, a mechanical engineer who works in the qualifications and building studies section, said: “As far as I know, nothing.”

Such decisions were not overseen by the Government, he said, but instead depended “on the requirements of the consultants”.

Christine Stewart is baffled as to why a glass panel in the lounge of her apartment suddenly shattered into dozens of pieces on Saturday.

“Nothing had hit it, nothing had happened,” said Ms Stewart, 46, a Briton who works in the media.

“It just literally went, and people were sitting nearby. It could have hit them, but luckily it didn’t.

“What worries me is what caused such a thing to happen, is it going to happen again, and how safe are our apartments.”

When Barti Makhijani returned to her 28th-floor apartment in Dubai Marina recently, she found one of the five window panes in her bedroom, which run from floor to ceiling, was cracked in numerous places, but still intact.

“It looked at first glance like it was raining on just that window,” said Mrs Makhijani, 30, an Indian who lives with her two children.

“It was shattered, as if a large stone had hit and some sort of ripple effect all along that centre pane. From what I understand, it was the outside pane that was shattered.

“I’ve got children around, and what if somebody throws something at that window like a ball because I’m not always in to guard the window?”

The cost of replacing the window, about Dh12,000 (US$3,200), was borne by Mrs Makhijani’s insurance. But the men who did the repair told her “it wasn’t the first flat in the building that experienced it”.

Paul Rogers, managing director at Eminent Surveyors and Loss Adjusters, described Mrs Makhijani’s window as “frosting up”.

This happens when windows are installed without the necessary “wedges”, which act as shock absorbers. This exposes them to greater amounts of thermal pressure, making them more prone to buckling.

“It’s mostly the outside pane that shatters,” he said. “If the inside shatters, that’s serious because it means the glass was fitted the wrong way.”


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