Sunday, January 21, 2007

Fortune Tower Fire in Dubai Kills Four

Last week’s fire at the Fortune Tower on Sheikh Zayed Road opposite Dubai Marina took a toll of 4 lives and some 60 injuries. Many of the workers were from the sub continent. Onlookers who saw the inferno felt like seeing another 11/9. One worker literally jumped to death from the high tower. The injured were treated for smoke inhalation and needed oxygen. Fire engulfed the high rise building which was nearing completion. The higher floors of the building was where most workers were on the job. It is still not known what exactly caused the blaze, but an electrical short circuit is the likely cause.

The UAE has a pretty bad track record of enforcing proper security measures at construction sites. While the equipments used are no doubt of high quality; the safety measures that are mandatory for construction of high rise buildings are never completely adhered to. Proper training is rarely given to the workers. Casualties at construction work sites is quite common and such deaths are not correctly reported and major disasters are made to look like small slip ups. Wages are low and working conditions are bad. Human rights go at a discount and workers welfare is seldom addressed. Until recently construction workers were made to toil in the scorching summer afternoons without a break when temperatures frequently reach 45-50 degrees. Exploitation of workers is rampant at a wage that can shock the western world. Living conditions for the laborers are far from satisfactory.

Workers rights in this part of the world are limited. For example it is common practice for employers in the UAE to retain employees' passports for the duration of the employment contract to prevent expatriate employees from changing jobs. This is an illegal practice, but it is almost never investigated, let alone punished by the government.

Coming to the present disaster; I would like to know what compensation the concerned authorities doled out to the 4 victims who lost their lives in the inferno. And what compensation will be given the 60 odd workers who suffered smoke inhalation and hospitalization? Monetary figures are rarely disclosed and there are no proper guidelines when it comes to addressing such grievances. Compensation is usually a pittance. The country has a long way to go in such measures and one can only expect things to improve.

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