Deen Dayal was injured on a construction site in Dubai when he fell six storeys from a platform, suffering severe head injuries, three spinal cord fractures, and a broken neck. Since he was found after working hours, his employers would not pay him a disability settlement. Neither he, nor his family, could pay the Dh4,000 a recruiter charged to bring him to the UAE. His brother arrived in the UAE to pay off the debt.
It may come as little consolation to Mr Dayal's family that a quiet revolution has been taking place within the Government for several years to prevent such tragedies. The UAE will continue the fight it began in 2005, when it set out to work with the Colombo Process, a collection of Asian countries committed to labour reform. As the next step in that battle, the UAE will begin working with the UN's International Labour Organisation (ILO) to oversee labour reforms.
The UAE seeks to measure what has actually changed against what it has committed to change. In particular, a joint committee with the ILO will attempt to close loopholes exploited by those who recruit labourers from foreign countries who often charge exorbitant fees and keep labourers in debt. "It's a big step for the UAE government, with the help of the ILO, to ensure workers' rights are fully protected," said Yuri Cipriano, the vice chairman of Migrante-UAE, an organisation that protects Filipinos overseas. "Workers tend to be exploited by unscrupulous recruiters who charge exorbitant placement fees before they are deployed to the UAE."
In 2006, the UN General Assembly affirmed that temporary labour helps to fight poverty in Asia. Remittances remain a substantial source of money for many nations in need. Yet ensuring that these needs are not exploited requires an international effort. The UAE has taken steps to rectify delayed payments, improve working and living conditions, and provide better access to food and water. The UAE, through the Colombo Process, has called for nationwide crackdowns on employers who fall short.
But enforcing laws can be much more difficult than passing them. The ILO committee is now responsible for ensuring that reforms drafted in government offices find their way to labour camps. The hard slog of drafting legal and policy measures will only be useful if it changes realities on the ground. The UAE has redoubled its efforts to make sure that labour laws are enforced.