ABU DHABI // Outdated labour laws are forcing Emirati workers to go through lengthy and costly court action to get their basic rights, according to employment experts and FNC members.
The problems are compounded by the Ministry of Labour's limited authority over private companies, they said.
The difficulties were illustrated in the case of a senior Emirati employee at the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Industry who was left unemployed for more than a year because his employers would not give him a letter of experience.
RM, who worked for the chamber for nearly 14 years before he was forced to resign, took the issue to the labour ministry but was told it had no power over the chamber, which is a private institution.
The ministry referred the case to the Abu Dhabi Labour Court in October last year, but despite a court order in his favour, which was upheld by the appeals court, the chamber has yet to issue the letter.
Emiratisation "has to be supported by measures and regulations," said Dr Sultan Muazzen, an FNC member from Fujairah who was chairman of the council's health, labour and social committee.
"Labour laws are extremely weak when it comes to protecting the rights of citizens."
He complained the ministry of labour catered to foreign workers better than for Emiratis, and called on the ministry to put greater focus on citizens' issues.
"If an expatriate has a labour issue, he would go to the ministry and it would solve it for him," Dr al Muazzen said.
"That is not the case with Emiratis. An Emirati has to go to court and ask for his legal rights, but the laws have loopholes and the process takes a long time."
Providing an avenue for Emiratis to solve labour issues and protect their rights would better integrate them into the private sector while bolstering the goal of Emiratisation, Dr al Muazzen said.
Ali al Matroushi, a former FNC member from Ajman, called on the Ministry of Labour to put an end to what he called "ad hoc" practices by employers towards Emiratis.
"There has to be a department at the ministry that deals with this issue," he said.
"The ministry should not overlook such cases, which exist."
He said the judiciary was restricted by existing laws and would not order damages awarded to Emiratis even if a judge found their employer at fault. Emiratis are usually awarded three months' average salary, no matter how long they had worked or how serious the offence.
"A judge would not order the company, even if it lost the lawsuit, to pay all the legal costs," he said. "They are restricted."
Reyad Khalil, an Abu Dhabi-based researcher and expert on the economics of Emiratisation, said regular programmes aimed at bolstering the policy are often hampered because they do not deal with legal protections in the private sector.
"The labour law is outdated," Mr Khalil said. "Emiratis should feel that their rights are protected in the private sector in order to seek jobs there."
But Paul Dyer, a research fellow who focuses on labour issues at the Dubai School Government, disagreed.
"Broadly speaking, the perception among a lot of Emiratis is that the private sector is not a welcoming environment," he said.
"But, in general, the private sector is very welcoming for Emiratis, especially the ones who have the skills. It is in the companies' interest to seek those out."