Dubai laborers struggle to sleep without AC
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By Jay B. Hilotin
Dubai: It’s 1am on Tuesday and hundreds of Asian workers in a Jebel Ali camp remain wide awake due to a district cooling malfunction.
Inside sleeping quarters, AC remote controls show cooling set at 18 degrees Celsius. But in reality, the temperature on the top floor of their four-storey accommodation hovers around 33 degrees. It has been like this for three nights.
“Our camp is burning, our people are unable to sleep,” said Imtyaz Mohammad Petkar, 53, camp manager of Gulf Marine Maintenance and Offshore Service Co (GMMOS), a Jebel Ali-based firm that employs the workers. For instance, workers in room No 87D keep pails of water next to their beds, thinking it will cool the air around them. Some spray water on themselves before lying on a thin mat on the floor, avoiding their bunk beds. Most set the ceiling fan on high speed, but that only circulates the hot air.
Some sleep in the camp’s mess hall, where cooling is better, but they are soon roused by the catering staff, who deliver breakfast at 4am. Workers are taken by bus to an open-air metal fabrication shop, where work starts at 6am.
Even as the workers endure sleepless nights, the landlord, company managers and the district cooling provider (Emicool) have been passing the blame. The company leased the camp in January. An inspection report dated June 18 shows up to 40 rooms had either insufficient cooling or the AC is only on fan mode.
Malik, the landlord’s representative, said the problem actually affected 80 rooms hooked to the far end of Emicool’s district cooling network, which faced a water shortage due to a burst water distribution pipe that had earlier caused flooding near Ibn Battuta Mall. He said technicians came to the camp on Wednesday to sort out the problem. “It will be fixed by tomorrow (Thursday),” he said.
Occupants are not convinced. “We’ve had this situation since May,” said Soujan, a quality control engineer who stays on the fourth floor of the building in Dubai Investments Park 2. “We took a digital thermometer from the office to take the readings in all the rooms. Both the AC unit and fans were working, but it was still 32 degrees C, and that too at night time. Luckily, we’re not here during daytime.”
The UAE’s strict rules on workers camps prescribe a minimum space per occupant and mandate proper cooling for sleeping quarters. The GMMOS workers’ rooms are cooled by what looks like a split-type AC unit controlled by a remote device.
Dino, 27, an Indian nurse who lives in the camp, said the AC technicians blame them for opening the windows. “It’s wrong to blame us as all windows are already sealed to keep the dust and light out. We are only able to sleep from about 2am as the night gets cooler then,” said Dino. Wakeup time is 4.30am.
“Sleep has become a luxury for us,” said Alan, 36, a Filipino pipe-fitter, who claims he’s having problems focusing on his job. “The temperature in my room is unbearable, I wake up sweating.” Alan, like several workers, has been sleeping in the camp’s mess for the last four nights.
Albino Allado, the company’s health, safety and environment manager, said: “Lack of sleep is a welfare issue, but it is also a safety issue.”
He said the company was now scouting for another accommodation, but added that shifting was easier said than done.
Petkar said: “Our people here are suffering. They work hard under the hot sun during the day. We have been complaining to the landlord’s representative, and he keeps promising they will fix it. I’m very upset about the whole situation.”
No comment was immediately available from Emicool.