Abdullah Padiyath (centre) with workers at an accommodation in Jebel Ali. Padiyath’s most cherished memories are of construction workers enjoying out-of-office life. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: From congested labour camps with no air-conditioning to spacious accommodations with plush internet cafes, Indian expat Abdulla Padiyath, 65, has seen radical changes in labour welfare during his 43 years of service in the UAE.

As he bids goodbye to the country, Padiyath’s most cherished memories are about construction workers enjoying out-of-office life like everyone else, with recreational facilities and events to showcase their talents.

Hailing from the south Indian state of Kerala, Padiyath arrived here in 1976. After his brief stints with two companies, he worked for 15 years with Al Habtoor Engineering.

Since 1992, he has been working with Laing O’ Rourke which was involved in the construction of several major projects, including the Dubai International Airport.

There are many sporting events and cultural festivals too that take place exclusively for workers. Many companies are also investing in promoting health and fitness of their workers.

- Abdullah Padiyath, Indian expatriate

He has held different positions all these years – from draughtsman and estimator to his latest position as a senior buyer in the purchasing department. Yet, Padiyath is especially proud about his additional post as the employee welfare manager at his last company.

It was something that he was passionate about. He landed the role after he helped the workers organise a cultural event at their accommodation 20 years ago.

“My managers supported it and eventually we organised several activities and arranged many facilities for our workers,” Padiyath told Gulf News.

Radical changes

Having seen labour camps that did not have air-conditioning during his initial years here, Padiyath says facilities for workers have radically changed since.

He pointed out that authorities have made sure that workers live in decent living conditions and have proper amenities. “There are many sporting events and cultural festivals too that take place exclusively for workers. Many companies are also investing in promoting health and fitness of their workers.”

“I have worked very closely with Dubai’s Permanent Committee for Labour Affairs and I have witnessed how things have changed in the past several years. The committee is doing a great job in ensuring labour welfare.”

In the case of his own workplace, Padiyath said the facilities for and the approach towards the workers have been extremely good.

“We set up the cyber café—modelled after the internet cafes of recent times. There are rooms with five to 10 computers with free internet in all our workers’ accommodations.”

Though many workers now have smart phones, they are still making use of the facility, said Padiyath.

“Food is also free for them. The catering company delivers breakfast and dinner at the accommodation and lunch at the work sites.” Workers also get newspapers to read.

The company has also set up locker rooms for workers to safely deposit their passports at their accommodations.

Recreational activities

On the recreational front, there are yearly cricket tournaments, football, basketball, volleyball and badminton matches and an annual sports day for chess, slow cycling, music chair etc. as well as social and cultural events twice a year to promote those who sing and dance.

All along the interview, he kept reminding that workers are referred to as operatives in his company. “We don’t use the word camp also. We say accommodation. These small changes give them due respect. We need to treat them that way. I belonged to a poor family and I can understand the feeling.”

After receiving a series of emotional farewells from his office, workers’ accommodation and several community groups he has been associated with, Padiyath said he was leaving the UAE full of gratitude to the country and his company, especially for giving him the chance to work for the welfare of the workers.