- Sri Lankan workers consider it one of best locations
- Economy downsizes but workers well treated
By Faraz Shauketaly in Dubai, UAE
Nearly a year ago, the doomsayers were at it: Dubai had gone bust, it had fallen victim to the greed of borrowing more than it could service and along with the downfall, scores of foreign workers would have to be sent home. None of the doomsayers had reckoned with the will of the Maktoum family and its hard-nosed advisers to ensure that Dubai simply would not fail indeed, could not fail.
There simply was just too much at stake not just for the Maktoums but also for the region. Dubai provides an essential semblance of balance in the Gulf and Middle East and it has almost nought to do with oil.
Dubai’s economy certainly has downsized just a bit; projects take longer to get completed as the investors rearrange their loans and recast their projections. It’s not quite eerie in Dubai – there are a number of projects that appear to have simply stopped and the construction staff in all probability sent back home. At the same time the Maktoums have created Dubai as a holiday destination that is considered by some in Europe to be the Top of the Pops.
Dubai’ Jumeirah Beach Resort area (JBR) is fast becoming the St. Tropez of the Middle East. Property prices and marina slots in the JBR area still holds its own: a two-bedroomed apartment going for around US$ 815,000 a year ago is now around US$700,000 and holiday lets are increasing in numbers as European and Soviet-block holiday makers turn Dubai into the new destination of choice.
A walk along the beachfront at JBR is to participate in a daily motor show extravaganza. Dubai is the fastest growing market for the latest productions of the world’s most exclusive autos: Rolls Royce, Bugatti, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Aston Martin and Hummer all do a roaring trade – as the traffic jams on the Marina will testify.
With the holiday season just about starting in Europe, with half-term holidays just coming to an end, bookings into Dubai are rising fast. Hotels are putting on hold vacation applications from their staff and are gearing up for a bumper season. Emiratis and their expatriate partners are expecting scores of visitors from Europe and the former Soviet block nations.
Sri Lankan expatriate staff especially in the leisure and catering industry are confident that their jobs will be secure for at least the next six months. Indeed one of Dubai’s premier resorts, the One & Only Royal Mirage chain, has recently opened yet another outlet indicating its own confidence in Dubai as a pleasure destination from Europe and the neighbouring region – like Saudi Arabia.
With salaries hovering around the Rs 50,000 mark, Sri Lankan expatriates are more than happy in the hotel industry. Good working conditions with exceptional accommodation and other facilities like food, laundry and leisure activities, makes Dubai a cosmopolitan location that Sri Lankans don’t really want to leave – unless of course they have reached their particular aspirations and want to come back home at the end of their contracts. Many have spent at least three years in Dubai and are looking to continue.
Chamara Silva, a Sri Lankan working in Dubai said that it was not all roses and neither did he expect it to be that way. He said that whilst conditions were good and business was still picking up, the personal sacrifices many of these youngsters had to endure was significant. They leave Sri Lanka in the prime of their youth and endure conditions quite unlike at home in terms of the weather and of course the food. The weather was extreme he said. Working in the scorching sun where temperatures went up to the high 40’s was no joke. Construction staff start very early – in the early hours of dawn. As for the food, the site canteens never delivered local tastes – which meant that a number of Sri Lankans spent their own money on innovative “mobile” kitchens and cooked-food suppliers.
As long as the monies sent back home was not squandered, he said, the sacrifices were bearable. Not so if the folk back home had embarked on a “Dubai lifestyle” on the back of the breadwinner’s hard slog in the Gulf.
Asitha, from Mihintale had already purchased land and his business plan was to open a guest house for local tourists within the cultural triangle area. He in turn bemoaned the intense requirements to gain approval from the Tourist Board but had read somewhere that the Tourism Authority was working at making the requirements easier and less bureaucratic. As Sri Lanka forecasts a bumper year ahead for remittances from abroad, migrant workers like Chamara, Asitha and at least one million other Sri Lankans will be hoping that the economic ambiance back home will be conducive for their eventual return and integration into mainstream local society.
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