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Blood money debts cut deep for workers in UAE

Feliciano Siquian was just two days into his job as a safety officer on a building site in Abu Dhabi when a colleague fell to his death. As the safety officer on duty that day, Siquian (below) was arrested, convicted of negligence and jailed. He served two months in jail. That was three years ago.



April 16, 2014  



Siquian remains stuck in the UAE, unable to get his passport back until he pays Dhs200,000 blood money to the victim’s family. But without any means of earning a living he cannot pay the sum – he is in limbo.


However, he is not alone. 7DAYS has learned that at least 18 people have overstayed their prison sentences in Dubai in the past year as they cannot afford to pay blood money ordered by the courts. The majority of cases are workers convicted of causing the accidental death of a workmate.


At least six of them were safety officers jailed for negligence after workers died at the sites they supervised.


“Many workers have to overstay their sentences as insurance companies are washing their hands,” said Nojood Othman, a counsellor at Dubai’s central prison who deals with these cases. “These workers were on a low salary before entering prison. How are they supposed to pay this large sum of money?”


Othman said insurance firms and the companies evade responsibility, and the men are left to suffer.


“They remain in prison because they cannot pay the debt,” she said. Among the prisoners who cannot afford to pay is a 33-year-old Bengali mechanic who caused the accidental death of a man when he hit a petrol tank on a car while welding and it burst into flames. He was jailed for a month, fined Dhs1,000 and ordered to pay Dhs200,000 blood money to the man’s family. He went to jail in May 2013 and has been there since.


In another case, an Egyptian safety officer was convicted of negligence after one of the workers he supervised fell into a cement mixer. Othman said she has noted an increase in the number of prisoners who cannot pay blood money. Dubai Central Jail’s humanitarian care unit paid blood money on behalf of 14 prisoners last year, and is working to help others.


“We try to help as many as possible, but we have limitations. The money could be used elsewhere if companies and insurers took responsibility,” said Othman. The unit collects donations from companies and individuals to help prisoners.


“We want to help because it’s not right for them to overstay their sentence just because of money. They also bring unnecessary cost on the prison administration,” said Major Abdullah al Naqbi, head of the unit. The average monthly cost for a prisoner is Dhs3,000.


UAE labour law requires companies to compensate employees in case of injury or death, but there is no law that makes it compulsory for companies to have cover.

Cheryl G Mutia, from insurance broker Lonsdale & Associates, said work-related accidents are usually covered by a workmen’s compensation policy.


“They can have an additional cover, employer’s liability (EL) extension, which protects employers from work-related liabilities arising from fatality or injury to employees. The insurance company will pay for damages, including blood money,” she said.


“Some employers do not have workmen’s compensation and many do not have the employer’s liability extension.”


A spokesman for the Ministry of Labour said the ministry is aware of the situation and is working to address the issue. The spokesman added they are seeking to raise awareness of the importance of workmen’s compensation among firms.