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Employees claim abuse when they try to change their jobs

Expatriates claim they are often forced by companies to give up their service benefits to get a no-objection certificate when changing jobs.

DUBAI // Expatriates are claiming that they are often forced by companies to give up their service benefits to get a no-objection certificate (NOC) when changing jobs. In a series of interviews yesterday, several workers as well as salaried staff in senior positions expressed their frustration over the practice. "There are too many complications to change jobs here," said SN, a purchase executive at a construction firm in Dubai who asked that his full names not be used.

The Indian national gave up a good offer at another company because he was afraid of losing benefits for years of service. "It is so difficult to get a good job break in the present situation," he said. "I wanted to take the new job, but when I found out about all the formalities and troubles to get my benefits, I decided to stay back. "I have a wife, children and several credit cards to pay up. I can't risk this."

He said his company demands at least two months salary from employees in return for a no objection certificate. "This is common practice, especially in construction companies," SN said. "Not just staff. Even poor workers have to pay up two months salary to get their passports and an NOC." The staff would then have to sign on a letter stating that all their pending salary has been cleared, after which they cannot demand anything.

The NOC from the employer is required to avoid a work ban when shifting jobs. The Ministry of Labour said yesterday that any agreement in which a worker gives up service benefits or salary is not valid. The ministry maintained that these were the rights of the employee and should be given by companies. But labourers in the construction industry said they knew of several of their colleagues returning home empty handed.

"Since the recession began, many people went home without getting any money," said a worker based in Sharjah. "We even have to pay for our own tickets." Workers wanting to return to their home countries have been asked to either pay for their own ticket or wait until the company can afford to pay for a ticket, they said. "We have to wait for months just so that they can book a ticket. Finally, we book it ourselves and fly out," he said.

Several workers said they were unaware of their rights. "My passport is with the company," said Ujwal Singh, another construction worker, when asked if he would consider changing his job. "I have no option but to work for them. When I get tired I will go back to India." Despite the ministry's urging that workers file complaints against employers who use these tactics, many are reluctant to enter a process that can leave them in an even worse position.

"Many people try to complain with the ministry but then the company just delays the whole procedure," said an Egyptian project manager who is in the process of shifting jobs. "My colleague demanded all pending dues, which is why the company did not give him the NOC for more than four months." The manager is now worried that the Dubai-based contracting company would do the same to him. pmenon@thenational.ae

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