Thursday, May 08, 2008

Sharjah tightens regulations on laborer housing

When workers at Dubai company rioted in Sharjah where they were housed by the company it was Sharjah whose name made the international headlines. It's not surprising that the result will be further Balkanization of the UAE economy. Sharjah is no longer willing to house workers on the cheap for companies that employ them in another emirate (read, Dubai). The National has the story:
Two senior members of the Sharjah Government confirmed that the law was in the final stages of approval and just weeks away from coming into effect.

They said they were pursuing the amendment to the current legislation to improve law and order following a series of protests and violent skirmishes over the rising cost of living.

“Most of the companies are in Dubai, but the workers live in Sharjah,” said Sheikh Sultan bin Ahmed, chairman of the Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority. “The companies will be forced to either register their workers in Sharjah or find new accommodation in Dubai or the other emirates.

“If anything happens, it is usually Sharjah to blame,” said Sheikh Sultan, who added that the number of workers living in the emirate greatly outweighed the number of police officers available to contain labour protests.

However, the move would be unpopular with workers who commuted from Sharjah to escape Dubai’s high rental rates, said Burhan Turkmani, the general manager of the Dubai-based Al Rabiah Trading company, a food importer.

“Sixty per cent of my employees live in Sharjah,” he said. “It’s far too expensive for certain employees to live in Dubai.

“These people, they live there, they spend much of their income in Sharjah, their children go to school in Sharjah, and they only go to Dubai to work. It may be a bit harsh. Food prices and the cost of living are going up, so people are suffering as it is.”

With a more affordable cost of living than Dubai and lower operating costs for worker compounds, Sharjah has attracted thousands of construction labourers. Many are employed in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, where construction is expanding rapidly.

In recent months, Sharjah has been rocked by violent protests.

In April, more than 600 Asian labourers were arrested after a protest in the Al Nahda district. Workers from the Tiger contracting company attacked police with stones and bricks from an upper storey of a building under construction, the emirates news agency WAM reported.

Weeks earlier, about 1,500 rioting workers set alight management offices in a labour camp, clashing with police and officials.

Shehab el Orabi, the senior development manager at the Waterfront real estate project in Dubai, said he understood Sharjah’s motive for amending its labour law.

“I fully agree with them. Why would I have to take care of problems arising from labour camps there if they [workers] were not even working in Sharjah or contributing to the local economy?”

Mr Orabi said implementation of the law would likely encourage companies to build more modern accommodation facilities in proximity to the places that the men worked, thereby cutting the travel time to work and reducing the number of vehicles on the road.

About 250,000 vehicles travelled through Sharjah every day to locations outside the emirate, 50,000 of which were trucks, Sharjah officials have reported.
According to The National's story Sharjah's new regulations apply both to (1) laborers who are housed in company provided compounds as well as (2) workers in higher salary categories who find their own housing and commute from Sharjah to Dubai. I am surprised that group (2) is the target of the legislation. [Although it is not beyond imagination that if not, then companies in category (1) would turn their workers lose to find housing in order fall under category (2).]

Thanks to the Kipp Report for the pointer.

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Blogger rosh said...

John thanks for this post.

Am not sure of white collar aspect. Both my folks live and worked in SHJ for close to 40 years. Over decades, compared to DXB, SHJ has come to define itself as a healthy cultural and Suburbian Emirate. Mostly those who prefer suburbian life, love SHJ - such folks incurr cost of living in SHJ - from rent, education, utilities, car registrations, grocery shopping etc all. Sharjawies who earn income from DXB do not spend much of their income in DXB. If they move out - SHJ's businesses shall suffer, it shall be a ghost town. Which is why I think The National perhaps mucked up and included White Collar folks with the proposed law.

As for the labour folks - call me cold hearted, however I am all for the proposed law. Shaikh Sultan is correct - it is unfair to crowd up SHJ with labour folks who are building DXB (I know you shall counter this argument pretty well). When home for Christmas, it hurts to see the lovely neighbourhood I grew up deteriorate given influx of labour folks - and their ways of life. I am not blaming the labour folks - we all know they have it harder than anyone else. However when you have labour buses race thru suburban neighbourhoods the Nascar way - when moms and kids are out and about in the evenings - or when some labour folks just walk around the neighbourhood, litter and stare at people, it does cause most folks an amount of discomfort. Since the past few years, my neighbourhood now have added Anjad surveillance.

The past riot did rock most of us -we have NEVER had a riot in SHJ - and to be honest it didn't have much to with SHJ, it wasn't SHJ profiting from the plight of these poor labour folks. Those profits earned in DXB should be put back into it's infrastructure to help add more cops and bring about added safety.

SHJ isn't a super rich Emirate like DXB or AUH - I think we get by thanks to some natural gas and funds from other Emirates. It's a lovely suburbia and I'd be happy to see the labour folks relocated to DXB - under positive living conditions and with adequate rights.

Anyhooo just a few thoughts, am not sure why I get all worked up with this issue - even amongst casual chat with friends.

7:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Am a Kenyan working in Sharjah.Of late have come to realise no Kenyans are being employed in Abu Dhabi.My colleque also was to get employed in sharjah and his visa was rejected(Employment) after passing the Labour by the miigration CID.Is it a way of throwing away Kenyans from U.A.E or what do you want to tell us.Can the governments be clear and inform those Kenyans who are suffering under search situations.

6:43 PM  
Anonymous said...

So, I do not really think this will work.

2:05 PM  
Blogger Gulf jobsites said...

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8:16 PM  

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