//HRW Report impact : Unskilled workers to be limited to six-year stay in UAE

HRW Report impact : Unskilled workers to be limited to six-year stay in UAE

By Samir Salama, Bureau Chief

Abu Dhabi: A draft of the modified labour law includes an article that stipulates a maximum six-year stay for unskilled workers, according to an official.

"The six-year maximum stay for expatriates in the GCC countries was shelved at GCC level but the UAE will go ahead with it, having an article in the new Labour Law to this effect," the official told Gulf News yesterday at the sidelines of the GCC undersecretaries meeting in Abu Dhabi.

Under the rule, unskilled foreign workers and domestic help will be allowed a maximum stay of six years in the country. It will be applicable to a total of two million unskilled workers.

"The UAE received an official document from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) recognising the change of the workers' position from being immigrants to temporary contractual workers.

"This will allow the country to proceed with rules making the maximum stay of workers six years – an initial stay of three years to be renewed only once for a similar period," the official said.

The source explained that workers who complete six years in the country will have to leave but may return after two years on the same conditions.

Dr Ali Bin Abdullah Al Ka'abi, Minister of Labour, told Gulf News yesterday that a draft of the modified law had been finalised. Other amendments to the law include increasing maternity leave from 45 days to 60 days and an article authorising the Labour Minister to approve the setting up of trade unions. Also included is reducing the unpaid Haj (pilgrimage) leave from one month to three weeks and authorisation for introducing a two-day weekend for private sector workers.


Human Rights Watch recommendations

Gulf News

    * Establish a commission to investigate and publicly report on the situation of migrant workers.
    * Prohibit companies from doing business with recruitment agencies in the UAE and abroad, that charge workers fees for travel, visas, employment contracts. Prosecute and penalise employers and recruiting agencies that violate the law.
    * Aggressively investigate and prosecute employers who violate the labour law.
    * Provide quantitative and qualitative data on labour disputes, deaths and injuries at constructions sites and government actions to address these issues.
    * Increase the number of inspectors. Ensure that they are carrying out their duties.
    * Inform and educate foreign construction workers of their rights.
    * Abide by the obligation to implement a minimum wage.
    * Allow establishment of genuine and independent human rights and workers rights organisations.
    * Ratify International Labour Organisation conventions on freedom of association and collective bargaining.
    * Ratify ILO convention on occupational safety and health.
    * Ratify ILO convention on protection of rights of migrant workers and members of their kin.

Ministry failed to meet us: Watchdog

By Duraid Al Baik, Foreign Editor

Dubai: Human Rights Watch (HRW) has blamed the Ministry of Labour for failing to meet researchers and activists of the organisation while they were investigating the situation of foreign labourers in the UAE.

Lance Lattig, Media Editor, said officials from the Ministry of Labour did not reply to Human Rights Watch's letter that requested clarification of 13 points. The letter was sent to the ministry on June 14 after the fact-finding mission failed to interview the minister in February.

Instead of replying directly to the HRW, Lattig said the organisation received a clarification from Abdul Aziz Nasser Al Shamsi, Ambassador and permanent representative of the UAE to the United Nations.

"The letter dated Sep-tember 28 primarily focused on the need to replace the term migrant workers with temporary workers," he said.

According to the Ministry of Labour, workers come to the UAE on fixed term contracts for certain purposes. The 95th session of the International Labour Conference held in Geneva in June agreed to consider foreign workers in the GCC as temporary workers.

Lattig welcomed the recent actions taken by the UAE government including setting up labour courts and curbing exploitation of workers. He said there were still two issues that needed to be addressed by the UAE government, which include fixing a minimum wage for labourers based on, and revised, in accordance with the cost of living in the country and legalising the representation of workers in labour organisations.

He praised the UAE in its efforts to solve the issue of camel jockeys and the decree issued by President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan regarding banning human trafficking.

"The UAE seems to be sincere in streamlining its laws in accordance with the human rights rules," he said.


UAE disputes watchdog report on labour situation

By Duraid Al Baik, Foreign Editor

Dubai: A field survey of only 60 workers from a number of construction companies in Dubai, Sharjah and Ajman out of the more than 500,000 working in the sector was revealed yesterday as the basis of a report released here by the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) criticising what it termed as "serious abuses" of workers' rights by their employers in the UAE.

The report drew strong criticism from lawyers and members of non-governmental organisations in the country for what they said as "imbalanced recommendations" and "sensational arguments" based on poor investigation.

Interviews with just 60 workers will not give anybody a real picture of the situation, one critic said.

Commenting on the report, Dr. Ali Bin Abdullah Al Ka'abi, Minister of Labour, said the government had already taken action to deal with the issues raised by Human Rights Watch.


He disputed the watchdog's allegations that companies, which were in breach of existing legislation, were not being penalised.

Titled "Building Towers, Cheating Workers", the 71-page report distributed here yesterday focused on issues ranging from forcing workers seeking employment in the UAE to pay illegal sum to get working permits, to delayed payment of salaries, lack of proper safety measures in construction sites and poor living conditions in accommodation facilities.

The rights body said it based its report on interviews with workers and people related to the business in February this year.

Hadi Ghaemi who managed and conducted the survey, blamed the UAE Government for "not aggressively prosecuting" companies violating labourers' rights and recommended an 11-point action plan to curb abuse of workers rights in construction sector.

Courts welcomed

He also called on the governments that export workers to the UAE, namely India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, to work with the authorities here to protect workers' rights.

Ghaemi welcomed the UAE announcement to set up special courts for labourers that was ordered last week along with a set of measures meant to curb abuse of workers' rights.

Last week, His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice- President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, instructed the labour minister to take necessary action to address the issues of expatriate workers in the country. He ordered the ministry to ensure improved standards of health, safety and quality of life for expatriate workers in both their work
places and living areas.

UAE takes action on Rights issues

WAM & agencies

Abu Dhabi: The UAE Government has already taken action to deal with many of the issues raised by Human Rights Watch, the Minister of Labour, Dr Ali Abdullah Al Ka'abi said.

In a telephone interview with the Associated Press, Al Ka'abi acknowledged that there were abuses of the existing Labour Law.

"There are laws and regulations, but you cannot catch everyone in this country who abuses labourers," he said. "[But] when we find abuse, we don't hesitate to take action, either at the ministry level or through the court system."


The introduction of a new system of courts specifically to deal with labour issues, he said, 'will help a lot.' The minister also said that in the past, his ministry had only 80 labour inspectors, an insufficient number to carry out all the inspections that were required.

"Our laws are tougher than those in the Middle East," he said, "but the lack of inspectors means we don't see these problems." Now, he said His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, had ordered that a special directorate with 2,000 inspectors should be established to facilitate more inspections.

Al Ka'abi disputed allegations by HRW that companies which were in breach of existing legislation were not being penalised.

'Dozens' of companies were fined in July and August this year alone for failing to abide by government rules that outdoor construction work should be halted during the hottest hours of the day while one well-connected construction company which had not paid its workers on time had been ordered to cease operations for a six month period.

In a separate interview with WAM, the labour minister said that his ministry paid close attention to health and safety issues, and that the increase in the number of labour inspectors would enable the ministry to tackle these issues more effectively.

"By law, all employers are obliged to report any cases of death or injury to the Ministry of Labour and to other relevant bodies," he said.

"But we know that there are malpractices and that many employers do not abide by the law. Together with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Interior we are working to monitor health and safety issues more effectively and to collect statistics on all incidents of deaths and injury involving employees. Those employers found to be concealing information and to be permitting unsafe practices will be severely penalised, in accordance with the terms of the law."

'Sensationalist and not based on facts'

Duraid Al Braik, Foreign Editor
Dubai: The headline of the HRW report, Building towers, cheating workers is sensationalist and without substantiated evidence.

Interviewing 60 workers to prove exploitation in the construction sector – which employees at least 500,000 workers, is not fair. The report failed to point out the responsibilities of the governments of countries exporting workers to the UAE towards their workers before they depart from their respective countries.

The report blamed the UAE for charging workers huge sums of money for visas by recruiters in their own countries, which is out of UAE jurisdiction.

Action taken by the UAE government to improve workers' conditions were not reflected in the report.

Pictures being used to illustrate what the HRW termed as exploitation of migrant construction workers in the UAE failed to prove the said exploitation.

The report highlighted five areas where it believes exploitation is taking place, including the recruitment process, unpaid wages, low wages, and safety and health hazards.

The report did not compare between workers' benefits in the UAE and in their original countries and the fact that there is no minimum wage in labour exporting countries.

Gulf News,  13, 2006.