ABU DHABI // An Emirati man who said he was unfairly fired from his job has been waiting for more than a year and fighting in the courts for a basic right guaranteed by the UAE's labour law: a letter of experience.
RM has been unemployed since his dismissal on November 2, 2009 because the letter is required in job applications.
RM, a 46-year old Emirati father, worked for the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Industry for nearly 14 years before he was dismissed.
He said his sacking was the result of what he claimed was a personal conflict between himself and his employer, according to court documents.
Although obtaining a letter of experience at the end of one's employment is an employee's basic right laid down by UAE labour laws, RM still has not received his, despite a court order that was upheld on appeal.
In February last year, after the dismissal, RM approached the chamber and asked for the letter.
"First they said, 'Inshallah, within an hour we will get it for you'," he told the court. "I called the next day, and they said they cannot get it. They didn't even bother to tell me. Every time, they said 'we have instructions' to not give me a letter of experience or any other documentation I would need."
The letter of experience is different from the no-objection certificate from a previous employer that was abolished this year.
After his employers allegedly refused to provide him with the letter, RM lodged a complaint at the Ministry of Labour, to no avail.
"Why is there no place for Emiratis to go with complaints?" he asked.
In a letter addressed to the Abu Dhabi Labour Court, the Ministry of Labour said that the ministry had no power over his prior employers after they refused to attend meetings to discuss the issue on September 22 last year.
"We were unable to reach a settlement, that is why the case has been referred to the court," the letter stated.
RM criticised the process. "If we have a problem, we go to the Ministry of Labour, then they cannot do anything, so where do we go?" he asked. "This is why Emiratisation in the private sector will never work, because our rights are not protected by the law."
In its ruling on November 29 last year, the Abu Dhabi Labour Court ordered the company to issue the letter to RM. The court further stated that the letter from the company should include RM's employment dates and position. The court also ordered the employer to pay Dh200,000 in damages and costs.
However, the court rejected RM's other demand: it would not order the company to pay him Dh1.035 million in lost salary because of its refusal to provide the document.
According to UAE labour law, the maximum compensation for a dismissed employee is three months' salary.
"This does not even cover the lawyer's costs," RM said. "I was deprived of work for more than a year only because of this letter.
"The average local family needs an average of Dh23,000 [per month] to survive, for school, house and car payments.
"On what basis did they decide how much to compensate me? This has cost me time, money and my future."
RM's UAE ID card also states that he is employed, another reason that employers cannot hire him.
The judges ruled that the employer's "intransigence and refusal to provide him with the letter of experience had caused damages to him and a loss of his source of income" from February last year to the date of the verdict.
A person must wait for a month after a verdict to execute a court order.
The Chamber of Commerce appealed to the Abu Dhabi Court of Appeals, which upheld the verdict. The chamber can appeal again to the Court of Cassation.