Forty people were hospitalised and 25 were arrested at an Arabtec labour camp on Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island, following a brawl in which rival gangs of workers were stabbed and attacked with sticks and metal bars.
Growing tensions turned violent on Tuesday night when rival groups of Pakistani and Bangladeshi workers, armed with hammers, knives and metal bars, engaged in a mass brawl at the labour camp.
Reports claimed some labourers suffered stab wounds and fighting continued into Wednesday morning, resulting in a police helicopter and officers being sent to the site, where over 2,000 workers live.
“So far, up to the last report I got, 40 people were hospitalised. I think a lot of them are basic injuries but I am sure a big number of those injured most likely have been discharged form hospital,” Ashraf Zeitoon, the head of group corporate communications at Arabtec, told CW's sister title, Arabian Business.
Zeitoon confirmed 25 people were arrested by police and said the incident erupted after a Pakistani tea boy got into a disagreement with a Bangladeshi tea boy over the key to the small kitchenette where they both work.
“We were on the site straight away and the police were very cooperative and helped calm down the whole issue. After it subsided, one of their biggest demands was that they wanted to be separated. So we moved all the Pakistani workers to a different labour camp we have on Yas Island.
“We managed to recover with minimal damage to the work flow and no significant delays whatsoever,” he added.
Earlier this year, thousands of workers at an Arabtec labour camp in Dubai staged a four-day strike seeking higher pay.
"This unwarranted stoppage had been instigated by a minority group who will be held accountable for their actions," Arabtec said in a statement on Dubai's bourse, with police adding that about 200 of the workers would be repatriated.
Arabtec, in which Abu Dhabi state-owned fund Aabar owns a near 22% stake, was among the contractors that built Dubai's palm-shaped island projects and the world's tallest tower, the Burj Khalifa.
The latest incident took place at the Saadiyat Construction Village on Saadiyat Island, which Abu Dhabi is converting into an international tourist destination, at a cost of $27bn.
The island will have four museums and a performing arts centre designed by world-renowned architectural firms as well as a New York University campus, golf courses, hotels, and luxury residences.
Master developer Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC) said late last year it was committed to overcoming any challenges in order to "secure an internationally recognised standard of living for workers".
The comments came after the publication of the first independent monitoring report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) on worker welfare practices on Saadiyat Island.
The report, which provides an appraisal of TDIC's contractors' and subcontractors' compliance with the company's employment policy, showed positive findings and recommendations for improvements, TDIC said in comments published by news agency WAM.
TDIC appointed PwC in June 2011 to provide independent monitoring of the welfare of workers on Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi's multi-billion dollar tourism project.