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Posted On: 1 June 2013 09:54 am
Updated On: 12 November 2020 02:13 pm

Move to remove bunk beds hailed

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A number of construction workers have lauded the move by the National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) to remove bunk beds from makeshift labour camps at construction sites. After the NHRC recently issued a handbook of guidelines for makeshift labour camps, this reporter visited some temporary camps at project sites and spoke to several workers about their living conditions and the new guidelines. The guidelines ban bunk beds and give specifications for kitchens, dining rooms, cooking facilities, water, electricity and sewerage systems, and ventilation and air conditioning at makeshift labour camps. Not more than four workers can be accommodated in a room. Companies are also required to have a clinic with a doctor and nurse if the makeshift labour camp accommodates 500 workers or more. The living conditions at these camps remain poor. The workers said bunk beds were a common feature of labour camps. Most workers share small rooms, sleep on bunk beds and don’t get a proper place to keep their belongings. The cramped rooms become more uncomfortable in summer, especially if the old air conditioners stop working. At some camps, many workers share a kitchen but there is no specific area for dining. ‘’I don’t think there are many labour camps without bunk beds. Not only at labour camps at construction sites, bunk beds are there at any accommodation for single workers,’’ said Sunil, a Nepalese worker. Raja, an Indian construction worker who arrived here three years ago, shares a room made of cement blocks and a roof of sheets at a project site in Al Shahaniya. He said he shared the room with five other workers and they slept on bunk beds. He said they didn’t have enough space to keep their belongings. The room’s air conditioner was struggling to beat back the noon heat on Thursday. There are 16 rows of 10 such rooms. Approximately 160 workers live in the temporary labour camp at a construction site. They share 20 toilets and 20 bathrooms. There is a common kitchen for all the workers where they cook their meals early in the morning to pack and carry with them to work. ‘’All these rooms accommodate six people with three bunk beds in each room,’’ said Raja. The living condition of Raja is not too different from that of other construction workers here. ‘’Accommodations for workers are not much different from each other. The size of the rooms and number of people living there can vary, but no one can find a room without a bunk bed. I am very surprised to hear that there is a ban on such beds. Eight of us are living in a room and we have four beds,’’ said Suresh, a Sri Lankan construction worker at a site in Matar Qadeem. Ibrahim, a Bangladeshi construction worker, was also of the opinion that if fewer people were accommodated in a room their living conditions would be better. ‘’It is good if they reduce the number of people and remove the bunk beds because at times the life of the person on the upper bed is confined to that place,’’ Ibrahim added. However, few companies provide better places for their construction workers to live. They are accommodated in Portacabins or villas close to the construction site. ‘’Our company hires Portacabins and they are designed as rooms. Three to four people stay in such cabins. At some places, big villas are rented and two of us are accommodated in a room. But, of course, at all these places we have bunk beds,’’ said a construction worker at a project in Al Wakra. (Names have been changed as the workers requested anonymity.) THE PENINSULA Salient features of the NHRC guidelines on temporary labour camps on construction sites Workers’ Accommodation Rooms The area allocated to each worker in a shared room shall not be less than four square metres of free space. No more than four workers shall be accommodated in one room. Beds with two or more tiers are strictly forbidden. Entrances, corridors or passages, rooftops and vaults shall not be used as rooms to accommodate workers. Windows shall not permit dust leakage and they shall be furnished with metal meshes to prevent entry of insects. All rooms shall have a ventilation system, supplying sufficient natural and artificial lighting. There shall be a sitting and living hall for receiving guests and sitting purposes at one square metre space for each worker living in the accommodation. There shall be a water cooler with a single drinking tap for every 20 workers at most, supplied with three crockery filters (in accordance with approved Qatar standards). Kitchens and Food Preparation Facilities The size of the kitchen shall be determined according to the number of workers, with adherence to health requirements of the relevant authorities. Kitchen walls shall be covered with ceramic or porcelain up to the ceiling. There shall be appropriate exhaust fans to suck out smoke and vapour, approved by the Civil Defence, in addition to electric insect traps. There shall be a stainless steel basin fitted with a water mixer (cold and hot) for cleaning utensils and equipment with the provision of a sewerage system. Water Closets/ Toilets The employer shall provide one fully equipped water closet (toilet) for every eight workers, at most with dimensions not less than 2.5 x 2 metres subject to the following requirements: Toilet walls shall be covered with porcelain and have anti-slip floors. Toilets should contain external water heaters. Toilets shall be located in an isolated area away from cooking and food preparation facilities. Medical Clinic and Health Equipment When the number of workers exceeds 100, the following shall be provided: A room equipped with first aid equipment to be kept by an experienced male nurse. In case the number of workers exceeds 500, a clinic shall be established manned by at least one doctor and one male nurse. General Provisions The employer shall provide necessary means for the disposal of accommodation and sewerage wastes regularly and in a hygienic way and shall establish an area far from the accommodation to dispose of garbage. It is strictly forbidden to use or exploit the workers accommodation for purposes other than those allocated for it. When storing foodstuff for the workers, the conditions for food storage shall be followed according to the requirements the concerned bodies. Companies and firms shall sign and stamp this Guide only once before submitting an application for recruitment of workers.