Monday, May 9, 2011

'Elf and Safety

You will have gathered already that I think Dubai is a pretty, damned strange place.  Strange in that it's strange to me rather than it's actually strange.  It's probably no stranger than Mumbai, Hong Kong, Mogadishu, Amsterdam or Glasgow, but it seems strange in that among other things, there seem to be pseudo-rituals that one must observe as part of one's every day life. Ie, when you meet a new person you automatically exchange information about where you're from and how long you've been in Dubai. Then if the person you meet has been here longer than a year they will suck their teeth and say: "Ooooh, so you haven't been here for summer yet. Just you wait.  It gets really hot." Thanks for that, everyone I've met in Dubai so far.  I realise that it will get really hot.  I had thought of this before I came here.  And, yes, I'm aware, that even though it's already hot enough that the terrace burns my bare feet when I walk out on to it in the heat of the day to bring my washing in, that I have, in fact, seen nothing yet.

I also found it strange last night that the men who took the fridge freezer away to be fixed had to do so twice because they didn't seem to believe it was actually broken the first time.  It was even stranger that they came back with it again at 11.30pm last night. And amid a lot of banging and what I think was Hindi swearing, fixed it back into its fitted kitchen cupboard.  Can you imagine that happening in the UK? Bringing it back at 11.30pm at night the day after it was taken away.  "Work outside 9-6 Monday to Friday. You'll be lucky if it's back in a week, love, and you have to take a day off work because we'll be bringing it some time between 9am and 4pm, no, can't be more specific" I think would be the response any such request.

One of the strangest things I have seen so far is an example of the lack of compensation culture here.
There is an employment lawyer that gives advice to workers in a weekly column in the Khaleej Times.  Such advice is pretty key here as an estimated 88 per cent of people who live here are ex-pats and the only reason you can come here as in ex-pat is if you're on a work visa or the spouse or child of someone who is.

One reader wrote in this week saying he had been seriously injured in his work at a factory and had had his right hand amputated.  Not only did he loose his job after the accident, the employer deducted 2,000AED (roughly £330) from his final salary cheque.  For damage to the machine which injured him.

I shit you not.

"You negligently damaged my machine with your severed hand", said the employer, or something similar, one presumes.

Again.  Can you imagine?  If such a thing happened in the UK, there would be lengthy court cases and the company would be investigated by various bodies for years on end with health and safety executive, if not criminal, charges laid against the employer.  The compensation would be in the thousands of pounds.

This incident makes our culture of risk assessements for stair climbing and fetching things from high cupboards look pretty barking.

Thankfully, the lawyer states that while the employer is within his right to sack him as he is no longer fit to do his job, he is entitled to compensation for the injury and he should not have been docked 2,000AED from his salary and he should therefore go to the Department of Labor for remedy. I think there is a culture of: "Let's see what we can get away with," which is pretty strong here as there is no lobbying ability or permission to protest thanks to the lack of democracy. It's that kind of thing that really brings you up short and makes you realise that you're a lot further away from home metaphorically than you are physically in this place.

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