This morning's Xpress, the weekly magapaper thingy from Al Nisr Media, carries a front cover story that had me feeling distinctly uneasy.
I'd link to the image splashed across the front page, of four workers 'unwinding in the gym', except the website doesn't have this week's issue on it yet. But believe me, it's there. Four wooden looking blokes who don't look at all like they've just been thrown in there for the photographer, using the latest in walking/pedalling/weight lifting machinery. I'm not quite sure why I find the image staged and unsettling. Perhaps it's because we all see these blokes labouring in the heat and humidity shifting wheelbarrows, blocks and rebar by the tonne. What more could you want after a hard day labouring in the sun than a smashing workout to really get those muscles toned, after all?
The story attached to this worrying image is even more fascinating. Apparently the ETA Ascon labour camp in the infamous Sonapur labour camp area is one of the leading 'top class' labour camps with facilities that 'rival those of the city's exclusive gated communities' according to the paper. While any improvement in labour standards has to be a good thing (and Dubai Municipality has moved to regulate for better standards), one would be forgiven for being rather taken aback at this absurd comparison.
Akbar Khan, executive director at ETA Ascon, dismisses a suggestion that improvements in labour accommodation are due to negative press about workers' living conditions. Surrounded by pictures of the awkward-looking labourers posed in their bunk beds or outside in the labour camp, the assertion somehow fails to make its mark.
The ETA Ascon camp not only has a gym, ATMs and other facilities. It also has 62 CCTV cameras according to Xpress. I think this fact alone speaks to my general sense of unease at the story.
It would be so much more impressive to see a more deftly communicated proposition from the companies involved, with less staged pictures and less obviously credulous journalism. Then the fact that improvements are taking place would carry infinitely more credibility.