Thursday, September 2, 2010

Familiar tale of shattered dreams

hursday 2 Sep, 2010
The workers are living in the open air as there is no power inside
Everyone has heard stories of people who get into financial difficulties in the UAE and then run off - leaving behind their bills, mortgages and the odd car at the airport.
But in some cases, their actions also have a human cost, a price these labourers in Sharjah are currently paying.
The company they worked for has gone bust and their bosses have seemingly disappeared.
With no money, food, water or electricity, the 700 men - who have not been paid in six months - are struggling to live.
Desperate to escape the summer heat, they have moved all the furniture outside, where they now sleep and eat what little they can.
Sadly, their situation is all too familiar - this is  the third such crisis to come to light in recent months - and those involved in supporting labourers say that there are still many more people in similar situations.
Shoukath Ali Eroth, the general secretary of All Kerala Colleges Alumni Forum, a voluntary organisation, told 7DAYS: “We are helping a number of workers at different labour camps. They have the same problems - lack of salary, lack of food, electricity and water.”
Earlier this year, 7DAYS told how more than 400 men at a camp in Al Sajaa, Sharjah, were living off donations until the Ministry of Labour intervened and flew them home.
In this latest case, men have been sleeping in the open due to lack of power at the dilapidated camp located near Bin Laden Roundabout in Sharjah Industrial Area.
The men are from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Vietnam and worked for an engineering firm. They claim the owner has absconded and the company has shut down.
“Our lives have become worse than that of dogs,” said Theekaram Shresht, a 32-year-old Nepalese worker. “We are forced to sleep in the open and eat whatever people donate. We never thought we would be living like this.”
The labour camp has become a junk yard with sewage overflowing and rubbish piled up in many places.
Shresht came to Dubai 17 months ago, with dreams of building a wonderful life.
“Everything has been shattered,” he said.
He has received just a single month’s salary so far this year and fears he will never see the rest.
Many men in the camp are fasting for Ramadan, and often have nothing to eat when it is time to break their fast.
“It’s been a difficult Ramadan for us. We are borrowing money from friends to buy food for Iftar. It’s a sad situation,” said Nezakhat, a Pakistani worker.
Le Thanh Ha, the labour attache at the Vietnamese Embassy, said they were trying to help.
“We are trying to send them home with the help of the Ministry of Labour. The company seems to have gone bankrupt,” he said.
And he added that the embassy has dealt with a number of similar cases.
“This is one of the biggest. There have been other cases, though, where some workers were not paid for months,” he said.
Le added the Vietnamese authorities conduct orientation programmes for workers before they come to the UAE.
“We are asking labourers to check the history of the company before they take up jobs. It is essential for the good of their future,” he said.
An official from the Ministry of Labour said it was trying to help the workers, as is the Indian Embassy. “We are processing papers so that they can be sent home or allowed to work elsewhere,” the official said.
There was no answer from the offices of the men’s firm when 7DAYS tried to contact it.
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