UAE | Housing & Property

On-site workers' home in a box

Contracting firm touts shipping containers as ‘practical' accommodation for on-site workers

  • By Faisal Masudi, Staff reporter
  • Published: 00:00 July 22, 2010

container houses
  • Image Credit: MEGAN HIRONS MAHON/Gulf News
  • Each 40-foot container houses up to eight people. They sleep on bunk-beds to save space for small furniture items
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Dubai: A shipping container as a house? Well, if a contracting company is to be believed it's not only possible, it's also very practical.

Alsahel Contracting Company LLC (ACC) said it had introduced the idea in Dubai during the construction boom in recent years to help find ‘practical' housing solutions for on-site workers.

Ahmad Etman, Managing Partner, ACC, said there was nothing questionable in the arrangement that started three years ago. "It's safe and we've got government approval," he said.

Respectable look

"It looks respectable, it's decorated and has the usual housing facilities," he said. These containers are normally used for transporting goods worldwide.

Last week, XPRESS was granted rare access to one of ACC's labour camps made up of containers stacked together, near International City.

Each 40-foot container houses up to eight people. A front door in the middle opens into a small partition that separates two side cabins, each of which accommodates four roommates. They sleep on bunk-beds to save space for small furniture items.

A window on each half side comes with an air conditioner. There are also two exhaust fans. The interior walls, floor and roof are covered with "decoration wood" and a special material to keep the steel structure from overheating in the sun.

"It's normal, we don't feel out of place here," a middle-aged labourer at the site said about life inside the container.

Etman said ACC became the first company to use containers as homes in Dubai three years ago.

"We wanted a practical housing solution for labourers. They travel for hours between labour camps and construction sites. They come to work tired and get home tired.

"This became the only permitted on-site housing facility in Dubai. We grew from there," he said, but declined to reveal how many containers it uses for housing.

"Now, other companies here may try to imitate us," he said.

Containers make better homes than the usual wooden portable cabins, Etman added. The metal trunks are robust, easily moveable and affordable, even after refurbishments. He refused to reveal the cost of these homes.

Big savings

"In the long run, containers save money too. Organic structures break down, especially in the climate here. They can't withstand sandstorms [for example], which are like bullets to them.

"Outside the UAE, this isn't a new thing. They've been around for 10 years. There's a whole history of them being used for housing, offices and schools," he said.

Comments (12)

  1. Added 21:54 July 22, 2010

    What safety measure in case of lightening during rainy season?

    Aziz, Al Jubail, Saudi Arabia

  2. Added 16:56 July 22, 2010

    Average space per person is 5 foot for eight workers in a 40-foot container. Not that this is actual space per person since bunk beds are used, but it’s astonishing to know how contracting companies in the name of modernity and flexibility, save thousands of dirhams per year by using containers and keep their workers in pathetic conditions. I hope the company’s owners try out staying in such conditions for a month to decide whether it is right or wrong. Where are the human rights now?

    Rajeev, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  3. Added 11:04 July 22, 2010

    See this is what is happening in Dubai! There is no one to take care of this. Simply horrible.....

    Nishanth, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  4. Added 10:53 July 22, 2010

    Even our company provides the same containers. If anyone is interested, you can e-mail us at

    Harshad Sayed, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates

  5. Added 10:52 July 22, 2010

    I am surprised to see municipality giving approval! Etman should stay there in summer. Trust these are not insulated. And 8 people in one cabin, they staying like donkeys... of course they treat labourers like that.

    Lijesh, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  6. Added 10:51 July 22, 2010

    You can see the same type of accommodation in Fujairah-Khor Fakkan road near Mirbah. I feel sorry for the workers.

    Mk, Fujairah, United Arab Emirates

  7. Added 10:08 July 22, 2010

    The average monthly rent is three times the monthly salary of an employee (below managerial level). Where they are supposed to live?

    John, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  8. Added 10:02 July 22, 2010

    What about the summer heat bearing down on the metal housing? Even with AC units, living inside a container would be like living in an oven.

    John, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  9. Added 09:02 July 22, 2010

    That's right! after all their bosses live in a luxurious hotel apartment. This makes a lot of sense.

    Jhel Villaruel, Abu dhabi, United Arab Emirates

  10. Added 08:52 July 22, 2010

    Yes, this option may seem an economical boon for companies. However, these containers can cause overwhelming issues considering the heat in summer. Despite having air conditioning to cool things off, it would not really be of much help after analysing that metal is a good conductor of heat. It is a known fact that illegal immigrants in other countries have been known to have lost their lives traveling in containers such as these. I truly hope that the authorities could intervene and stop these companies from using shipping containers as a housing option.

    Mushtaq Ahmed, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

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