ABU DHABI // The Ministry of Labour says it is working to help scores of workers find new jobs after they were stranded for six months without pay in their labour camp when their employer went bust. Humaid bin Deemas, the ministry's acting director general, said in a written answer to questions that it would help the men find alternative work and waive the Dh10,000 (US$2,700) fee for transferring their sponsorship. They would instead be charged Dh1,000 for new work permits.
Some of the workers, who claim they are owed more than Dh50,000 in retirement benefits and back pay, are refusing to move, and instead have taken the insolvent company to court. What used to be a thriving group of more than 300 labourers working for Al Otaiba and Garg Contracting, housed in three labour camps on the outskirts of Mohammed bin Zayed City, has now dwindled to 128 men who have been left destitute, without access to basic food and water supplies.
Most had been with the company for more than a decade. Al Otaiba and Garg had been in business since 1977 but suddenly stopped operating last year. About half of the original group either took jobs with new companies or returned to their home countries after taking the company to court last year to win their release from their contracts. The rest, fearing that they could lose their benefits if they transferred to a new job, waited until March before approaching the ministry. They were referred to the Labour Court in Musaffah a month later, and their cases are still pending.
They have been in legal limbo since January, when the company ceased to exist. Mr bin Deemas said a report by the ministry's inspection committee had determined that the business had in effect gone bankrupt. The Indian partners of the company, Ashok Mittal, and Jai Prakash Garg, are believed to have absconded to India, according to reports from the workers, the Indian Embassy and the workers' lawyer.
The embassy said one of the pair was expected to return to the UAE next week to meet with embassy officials. The Emirati partner is reported to have died. Ansari Sainudeen, an advocate with Al Fajer legal consultants, has been representing the 128 remaining workers at the Musaffah Labour Court since May. He said it was the first time he had seen a case of abandonment on such a large scale by a previously reputable company.
"This is a special case," he said. "These are exceptional circumstances. "If you look at the age of the workers, you will see they have been with the company for a long time. They had expectations of getting retirement benefits when they decided to retire." He said there were no "respondents" in the case, alluding to the insolvent company. "But now the case is before the judge and it depends on the court."
Mr bin Deemas said some workers had not accepted a transfer to a different company within the UAE because they believed it would cost them their right to recover their salaries and benefits even though, he said, "their rights are guaranteed as long as their case stands before court". Some workers are asking the court to award an end-of-service benefit; these will be judged individually, depending on details such as designation, duration of work and work status.
The sum will vary between Dh16,000 and Dh56,000, said Mr Sainudeen. The men also hope to receive back pay for up to six months of between Dh600 and Dh1,500 per month. By law, employers pay for their employees' return tickets upon completion or termination of contracts, but in this case, Mr Sainudeen said, the court would decide how to issue tickets. "There will be liquidation of their assets. Through this, tickets will be paid."
Meanwhile, Abdul al Tenaiji, the head of communication and PR for the Abu Dhabi Red Crescent, has directed his department to give each stranded worker Dh1,000. He has also prepared a budget to cover their medical costs and provide basic food supplies to the camp. "We studied the problem before we moved," said Mr al Tenaiji. "This is a terrible humanitarian situation. We hope to solve it soon." The Red Crescent has so far provided more than Dh5,000-worth of food and other supplies, including bringing a doctor to the camp on Monday night to detail the men's health problems.