UAE issues guidelines to improve workers' housing

Mon Jun 8, 2009 6:00am EDT
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DUBAI (Reuters) - The United Arab Emirates, criticized by rights groups for its treatment of migrant laborers, Monday outlined standards for workers' housing, but employers still have five years to comply with the rules.

It was also not clear what consequences employers would face if they failed to abide by the guidelines.

The majority of the Gulf Arab country's 4.5 million population are foreigners, many of them Asian construction workers hired to develop the UAE's modern cities.

"Each facility operating in the country should upgrade its current workers' accommodation conditions to comply with these standards. Employers are given a maximum period of five years, commencing on the day the decision comes into force," the cabinet said in a statement.

The new manual for employers says rooms should have three square meters per worker and no more than 10 should live in one room.

The manual also includes standards on sewage systems, air conditioning, building materials, indoor air quality, elevators, emergency exits, green spaces, shops, toilets, television rooms and medical facilities, it said.

New York-based Human Rights Watch has criticized authorities over Saadiyat island in Abu Dhabi which is planned to be the center of a prestigious cultural district. The developer says workers' accommodation standards will be exemplary.

The UAE is trying to fend off criticism over human trafficking, including maids and other workers trapped into paying fees while their passports are confiscated. A labor ministry official said last month that as well as encouraging "model" housing, the UAE would set up labor courts and allow workers to switch jobs if employers delay wages by two months. It was not clear when this would come into effect.

The government says workers can rest for several hours in the middle of the day during summer, when temperatures and humidity in the Gulf hit dangerous levels.

In recent years workers have gone on strike over late payment of wages. Monday's statement said workers can now report delayed salaries through a Ministry of Labor website.

(Reporting by Andrew Hammond; Editing by Thomas Atkins and Jon Hemming)