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Excerpts from UAE Dailies

Expatriates suffer as rents go through the roof in Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi- 15 Aug: Spiralling rents and the rising cost of living in Abu Dhabi are forcing upper and middle income expatriates to live without their families.

Estate agents claim that rents have gone up by as much as 60 per cent, but many of those looking for accommodation say they have encountered 100 per cent rises.

“Several expatriates have sent their families back home due to the high rents and several apartments have been vacated. The demand is so high that even before an apartment is vacated there are people who are willing to pay money to the previous tenants requesting them to transfer it to their names,” said one property agent.

Over the past couple of months the situation has become tough for people living on a tight budget. There are very few one and two-bed room apartments available and all that remains on offer is accommodation way beyond the means of upper and middle income groups.

The Department of Social Services and Commercial Buildings (DSSCB), which controls almost 90 per cent of commercial and residential properties in Abu Dhabi, said: “There are hardly any flats under our control that are lying vacant, there is a severe shortage of accommodation and there are no projects coming up to ease the situation.” Rajesh Parek, a marketing manager for Air India, said he and his friends now talk of little else but rents.

“The situation is compounded by the increase in the cost of living. Prices of food items have gone up by nearly 100 per cent,” said Nora Kadour, a Jordanian housewife.

“In a matter of just 40 days the price of lentils has gone up considerably. When I left for my summer holiday to Amman I remember paying Dh3.50 per kg and now it is Dh5,”she said.

Private sector employees complain that there is no significant rise in their salaries to meet the cost of living.

According to property agents, there is a huge demand for one- and two-bedroom flats, so consequently rents have increased.

A two-bedroom apartment priced at Dh35,000 last year is now going for Dh50,000.

H Haider, a media consultant who lives in a two-bedroom flat for which he pays Dh40,000, has been served notice by his landlord that his rent is going to increase to Dh65,000.

“I have no choice but to leave. I cannot afford the rent. I will send my family back home,” he said.

The rent for a threebedroom apartment in Abu Dhabi is generally between Dh90,000 and Dh120,000.

Some upscale agencies say they have vacant properties but few takers.

According to reports, the population in the capital has increased to more than 600,000 – a rise of almost 30 per cent since the early 1970s.

There are an estimated 34 projects currently under construction in Abu Dhabi, the majority of which are expected to be ready by early next year


Weekend shift optional for private sector, says official

Dubai: 15 Aug: The shift to the new weekend starting from September 1 is optional for private sector companies, said a Ministry of Labour official.

Dr Khalid Al Khazraji, Undersecretary at the Ministry of Labour, said the change in weekend is only compulsory for government bodies.

The private sector has the choice to follow this shift or to continue with their existing systems.

A cabinet decision issued in May stipulated a shift of the government sector weekend from Thursday-Friday to Friday-Saturday starting from September 1.

"It is important to highlight that the decision only obliges the public sector to make the change, and that there is nothing in it that forces private companies from making the change or granting a two-day weekend to their employees," said Al Khazraji, adding that he encourages companies to give a two-day weekend.

Two weeks away from implementing the decision, the private sector is still not unified over what weekend it will follow.

Khalfan Mohammad Saeed, Head of the Human Resources Group at National Bank of Abu Dhabi, said currently the branches work six days a week, but they were waiting for the Central Bank's decision and would implement it accordingly.

"I believe it will be quite a positive step to move to a five-day week in line with the government directive. This will help improve the emiratisation within the banking sector," said Saeed.

A representative of Mashreqbank said their branches are open half-day on Thursday and that Friday is a day off. "We have no communication with any officials concerning the change, but we will follow the central bank guidelines in this respect." Khalid Hadi, group brand and marketing manager of ENOC, said the business will not be affected as they already have a Friday-Saturday weekend.

"However, it is a positive step taken by the government to unify the weekend across the country as in other parts of the world," said Hadi.

Nawfal Al Jourani, Head of Corporate Communications at Al Futtaim Group, said they have an internal system that manages the working timing which they are comfortable with.

"The majority of our employees have a half-day on Thursday and Friday is a off day. We are keeping this for the time being, but we are always open to reviewing our policies to add value to our business," said Al Jourani.

Ahmad Al Matroushi, UAE Managing Director at Emaar Properties, said the weekend shift would not have a direct bearing on Emaar's offices as they already follow the Sunday to Thursday week.

"By having a uniform holiday pattern, it is easier for businesses to plan ahead and be in tune with the rest of the organisations and remove any confusion regarding holiday patterns," said Al Matroushi.


Trucks that spill concrete on roads could be fined up to Dh2,500

Dubai: 15 Aug: Concrete producing companies have been warned to avoid spillage on roads or face strict penalties.

The penalties include confiscation of vehicles carrying ready-mix cement, the arrest of drivers and fines of up to Dh2,500. The Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) has joined forces with Dubai Municipality to implement the decision.

"Concrete producers must take immediate measures to avoid spillage and falling of waste and concrete masses from their ready-mix vehicles during trips from factories to construction sites," said Abdullah Yousuf Al Ali, Director of Maintenance Department at the RTA.

He said concrete spillage tarnished the look and quality of Dubai roads, causing pollution, traffic jams and accidents.

It also causes losses of about half a million dirhams a year as the roads have to be cleaned, he added.

Al Ali said the RTA would take strict action against companies whose vehicles caused damage to roads.

He said concrete producers must find the right solution for this vital issue. He asked them to refrain from overloading their vehicles and to cover shute vents properly while commuting. He also asked companies to conduct awareness campaigns for their drivers to avoid such violations.

Hassan M. Makki, Assistant Director of the Environment Department at Dubai Municipality, said spillage of concrete from vehicles was an offence by law.

"The municipality will monitor construction sites including roads and Dubai metro projects in a bid to keep roads around construction sites clean," he said.

He said ready-mix vehicles should be properly cleaned before leaving ready-mix companies or construction sites.


Owners of cars abandoned on streets face Dh500 fine

Dubai: 15 Aug: Next time you go on vacation, ask someone to clean your car lest you should be fined.

The warning came as a Dubai Municipality official asked residents not to "abandon" their cars in public areas, including roads and in open parking lots.

Any "abandoned" vehicles left on the road will be confiscated, taken to the municipality scrap yard, and will only be released on payment of a Dh500 fine. They will be auctioned off if they are not claimed within six months.

The Environment Department at the Municipality confiscates abandoned vehicles.

Tariq Al Khajah, Acting Director of Contracts and Purchasing Department at the municipality, said that about 1,000 to 1,400 cars are confiscated by the municipality every year.

"At an average 300 to 400 vehicles are reclaimed by their owners while about 1,000 unclaimed vehicles are auctioned every year," he said.

Hassan M. Makki, Assistant Director of the Environment Department, said that abandoned vehicles are an eyesore and ruin the aesthetic look of the city. They also pose a risk to public health and safety.

"The removal of abandoned vehicles aims to ensure that vehicles do not hinder routine waste collection and cleaning operations," he said.

Removal also prevents accumulation of litter and waste around abandoned vehicles and frees up parking space taken up by these vehicles.

An "abandoned" vehicle refers to a vehicle, which is not roadworthy (wrecked, dismantled or in irreparable condition) or does not have a valid registration or has been lying in an unused or abandoned state in a public space for a period exceeding 30 days.

As per Local Order 11 (2003) the municipality is authorised to remove abandoned vehicles from streets, public parking lots and public spaces.

Parked dirty vehicles are inspected and if applicable, a notice of removal sticker is applied. If the vehicle is not claimed within 15 days of the removal sticker being put on, it is removed to a scrap yard.

Removed vehicles are kept at the municipality scrap yard in Al Ghusais and then auctioned off if they are not claimed within six months.

Makki said that residents should dispose of their vehicles by giving them to scrap dealers and should not abandon them on roads.

Keep it clean: Covered vehicles will also be targeted

Residents who go on vacation and have to leave their cars on roads should ask some one to keep it clean. Multistorey parking lots can be used for this purpose.

It is also not allowed to leave cars covered with cloth or plastic covers.


Indians look proudly to the future

Dubai/Abu Dhabi/Al Ain: 15 Aug: A stable and secular India is what expatriate Indians hope for as they celebrate Independence Day today.

For the estimated 1.2 million Indians in the UAE the day brings for them colourful memories of the celebrations when they were back home in their villages, districts and towns.

Gulf News took to the streets and asked Indians what freedom meant to them and their hopes. Each had their own perspective on what 'freedom' means to them.

"India is my country and I hope that one day it gets to become an economic power. About 40 per cent of India's population is under the age of 27 which means we have young men and women who can take us to our target," said Yousuf Ali, managing director of Emke Group and member of the Abu Dhabi Chamber and Commerce and Industry.

Ali came to the UAE in 1973 and is today among prominent Non-Resident Indians involved in setting up schools and other investments in India.

"Things have changed considerably in India. India is the largest democracy and will be a global player in maintaining world peace," he added.

Dr Srinath Kidambi, a prominent cardiologist at Al Mafraq Hospital who has been here since 1989, said Independence Day is a day to reiterate the nation's commitment towards unity and integrity.

The senior doctor, who is also involved in charity work and conducts medical educational programmes said: "For me Independence day is an occasion to remind ourselves about our unity and integrity and the need to remain united and tolerant.

"India is a country of with an ancient and rich culture. Having travelled all over the world, I feel proud to be an Indian. My vision for India is for it to become a super power, not in terms of military power, but for cultural values, knowledge, education, industry, commerce and trade and be a beacon of peace and prosperity for the rest of the world."

Naresh Kumar Suri, a businessman and community leader in Al Ain, said: "Independence Day is very important to remember forefathers who sacrificed themselves for the country. It also keeps the new generations aware of the freedom struggle and reminds them to renew their commitment to the nation.

"We must celebrate it and should teach our children to do the same with dedication."

Bharatbhai Shah, a prominent Indian social worker, said: "I am 75 years old. I came to the UAE in 1982. I left India in 1948. I could easily say I am the only eye witness to August 15 1947 in India in the UAE. I still remember the Indian tricolour being hoisted. Today I feel sorry that all the sacrifices of our freedom fighters have gone to waste. Look at what is happening today; people are just fighting on caste and religion."

Chandra Mohan, a technician working in the capital, who served in the Indian Air Force for 15 years, says that Independence Day is the most important day in the calendar.

He said: "This day has a special place in my heart. It has given us the opportunity to raise our heads proudly forever. I'm also a happy man because I have served my country for 15 years working for the Indian Air Force.

" I will celebrate the occasion by distributing sweets among friends. After work, I will spend the whole day celebrating and exchanging greetings with friends and countrymen.

"I miss India a lot. But I don't have to wait too long as I will be in India for vacation after two days. I will celebrate my country's independence day back home again. I want to see a more stable, prosperous, advanced and economically firm India. I want India to become a symbol of these values for the world."

Dr Alka Kalra, an academic running a specialised educational institution in Abu Dhabi, said that she never missed a flag-hoisting ceremony during her stay in the UAE.

She said: "I always made it a point to be present at the ambassador's house on the morning of Independence Day to witness the flag hoisting, because it brings back memories of my childhood and of me receiving the prestigious Best National Cadet awards trophy from Indira Gandhi.

Naresh Kumar Suri, who has been living in Al Ain for the last 19 years, said India is the world's largest democracy and fast appearing on the world powers map. It is also a home of different religions, cultures, and civilisations. In the next few years, he said, India would be an ideal place to live and work.

V. Krishnaswamy, Development Officer for an insurance company in Al Ain, said: "It is the greatest day in the lives of all Indians since it reminds all of us that we are free," he said. The new generation must realise the importance of Independence Day to remember and pay homage to the forefathers who wagged a heroic struggle for the liberation of the country.

Krishnaswamy added that the older generations must focus and renew their commitment to the betterment of the country because they are duty bound to leave an excellent home for the future generations.

India is currently led by a capable leadership that has been keeping the country on the path of economic, social, and political development. The education level has increased and people are well aware of the fact that their country is a great nation.

"I am very optimistic about the future of India and believe that it would be more secure and charming place to live in the years ahead," he added.

Malvika Bhasin, an AUD student, said she would like to see India more secular.

"Look at what is happening today. People are fighting over religion. Having said that I am confident that we can overcome all hurdles and look forward to a more prosper and stable India," she said.


Pvt sector staff 'let down over change in weekend'

DUBAI — 15 Aug: The private sector employees in the UAE feel disappointed by the government's decision to change the weekend from Thursday-Friday to Friday-Saturday from September.

Their disappointment stems from the decision to leave it to the owners of the private companies whether they want to award their employees an extra holiday for the weekend.

''I am simply disgruntled with the way the government has left private sector employees at the mercy of their employers. Everyone deserves fair treatment whether they are working for the public sector or the private sector. There should be no discrimination,'' complained Zafar Javed, who works for a private institution.

A lot of people were expecting that the government would announce a two-day weekend for everyone in the UAE and not just the public sector.

This, however, has not been the case and has resulted in private sector employees feeling cheated and helpless.

"What hurts me is not the fact that we might be getting a day less of holiday each week but the fact that the government has not been fair in its treatment of the private sector employees."

"The rules and decisions of the government should be the same for everyone," said Kevin Cobblah, a private sector employee.

Apart from the people rightfully disappointed by the government's decision, there are many others who hold mixed views about the change in the weekend holidays.

''It's a good change especially for companies like us,'' appreciated Peter Barlow, General Manager of a leading brokerage firm in Dubai.

"Most of our dealings are with the markets of the Western countries that are closed on Saturday and Sunday."

"Changing the holiday from Thursday to Saturday would give us an extra working day which would be on par with the international markets," he added.

''For banks, it's good news. Right now our bank gives employees, serving the local customers an off on Thursday and those dealing with international clients an off on Saturday. With the new weekend from September, everyone would get an off on the same day."

"Not only will this be easier administratively but we will also be able to cut down on our running expenses,'' said Madam Swami, HR Manager of a leading local bank.

Vijay Philip, examinations officer of Wesgreen International School, Sharjah complained: "I am not happy with the change. Currently I get a half day off on Thursday and an off on Friday."

"This means I get one and a half days of holidays without any gap. Under the new holiday system to be implemented from September, I would get an off on Friday, then I'll have to work for the first half of Saturday and take the rest of the day off. This way, my one and a half day holiday would be broken in two parts instead of one long stretch."

"For me and others who have to follow this routine, the Saturday half day would become useless.''

''I commute daily from Ajman to Jebel Ali for work. There is a lot of traffic and I encounter many traffic jams daily. But Thursdays and Saturdays are better."

"That is because educational institutes are closed on Thursdays and many private companies are closed on Saturdays. This divides the traffic."

"But come September, both the educational institutes and private companies will remain open on Thursday. This would create a similar traffic problem as experienced from Sundays to Wednesdays,'' explained Khurshid Ali, an engineer for a construction company.

Still there are others who are not affected by the change of days in holidays.

''Our company already gives a holiday on Saturday instead of Thursday. The new weekend from September won't change anything for us. We would continue as normal,'' said an HR department personnel of Acer Computer Middle East Limited, on the condition of anonymity.

''My company gives me two days weekend, Thursday and Friday."

"From September, they are going to change it to Friday and Saturday. I'll still get two days of holidays. As long as my holidays are not lessened, I don't mind the change in the days,'' said Samir Allawi, Network Administrator, Vertex Systems.

However, there are also a few companies who are yet to decide about the new weekend.

Mohsen Elkabi, GM Administration, Al Futtaim, said: ''We haven't taken a decision yet about the new weekend from September. There are still two weeks left before September. We are working on it and will decide shortly."


Fish prices go up in Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI — 15 Aug: Low supply of fish in Abu Dhabi markets have pushed up prices and sales have dropped alarmingly threatening the livelihood of fishermen who have survived on their catch from the sea since the times of their forefathers. This band of traditional fishermen may soon disappear as many of them having already given up their profession due to high operational costs and the remaining fisherfolk are struggling to make ends meet.

Humaid Al Rumaithi, General Manager of Abu Dhabi Fishermen's Society, has identified a series of factors behind the high prices of fish. To start with, he explained the prices of fishing cages (garqour) obtained from the Environment Agency — Abu Dhabi- (EAD) were high with each cage costing Dh200. ''If a fisherman has a license for 125 cages he should pay Dh3750 to EAD. The problem is aggravating as increasing number of fishing launches were losing cages due to powerful sea waves,'' he said adding, fishermen had no option but to offset their heavy losses by hiking prices of their catch.

''Fee is another concern. It is illogical to treat an owner of a launch employing six workers and a contractor on an equal footing in term of fees which reach Dh 6000 for a labourer every two years,'' he said. He called on the authorities concerned to treat them like farmers who pay Dh1200 for a labourer.

''Fuel cost is the prime cause behind the high prices of fishes whether to the supplier or customer,'' he affirmed. He disclosed that the Society had submitted its findings to the EAD on the fish profession and a series of meetings were held between the two sides to work out a clear-cut solution to these problems.

Financially, Humaid, said that the Society had generated no revenue from sale of fishes and most of its profits were reaped from renting of shops and auctions. The Society has 300 shareholders.

On variance of fish prices, he explained that ''fresh fishes brought by the Society are sold at prices that are higher by Dh 2 or 3 than those available with other suppliers and commercial shopping malls. ''Despite that, prices of Society's fish are still less than those of other sellers,'' he said. 

Jassim Al Zaabi, owner of a launch, warned that most of the fishermen had abandoned their traditional profession because of high operational expenses.

''There were 300 launches out of the business at the Mina. The reasons are quite clear, he said pointing out that under Emiratisation, a national must captain his own launch to get Dh 1000 at the end of a five-day fishing trip.

Besides fuel prices had jumped 70 per cent to Dh10 for a gallon now from just Dh4.

''Each launch needs 200 gallons of fuel costing Dh2000 in addition to ice, and food rations for the labourers at Dh500. The income at best is Dh 1000 for each trip,'' he said.

''I have six labourers and have to pay Dh36,000 for their employment permits each two years' plus operational costs, he said.



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