DUBAI // The federal Government has called on nations that supply labour to the UAE to strengthen their laws regulating recruitment agencies in order to better collaborate with Emirates authorities for the protection of their workers.
Regulation of unscrupulous recruitment agents topped the agenda yesterday at an international labour conference being held in Dubai.
The two-day workshop will discuss ways to regulate recruitment companies operating overseas - a particular problem for officials trying to tighten control of the labour supply chain.
The Minister of Labour Saqr Ghobash Saeed Ghobash said labour supply countries needed to strengthen their laws concerning recruitment firms to allow for better collaborative work in protecting worker's rights.
"I call on our partner governments of countries of origin to also commit to upgrading and strengthening their respective legislations, so we can concentrate our efforts on the enforcement of our laws and promoting regional collaboration towards meeting our objectives," he told the gathering.
His comments came close on the heels of a new ruling, released last Saturday by the Ministry of Labour, to regulate the operation of recruitment agencies in the UAE. According to the ruling, agencies are now obliged to return any recruitment fees paid by a worker - whether in the UAE or abroad. Under the law, it is the employer's responsibility to pay agency fees.
Additionally, agencies that outsource labourers to a third party will be held jointly responsible for any delays in salaries. In cases of non-payment, the Ministry of Labour now has the right to liquidate a recruitment company's bank guarantee of Dh1 million and Dh2,000 deposit for each worker.
"It is high time that we make a collective pledge that we will get to the bottom of the challenge at hand and formulate and enforce appropriate solutions. As far as the UAE Ministry of Labour is concerned, this is a key priority," Mr Gobash said.
Representatives from six labour-supplying countries attended the workshop. Today, delegates are expected to draw up recommendations offering solutions to various recruitment-associated challenges. The workshop was organised by the Ministry of Labour in co-operation with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the office for the Higher Commission on Human Rights.
Arjun B Thapa, the Nepalese ambassador to the UAE, said many of the problems workers faced were not to do with legislation, but malpractice by recruitment agencies. "We have legislation in place, and manpower agencies are subject to harsh penalties, but in practice the violations are difficult to track. Sometimes the workers fall victim due to ignorance of their rights," Mr Thapa said.
Pasquale Lupoli, the IOM regional representative for Middle East and North Africa, also highlighted recruitment fees as a source of problems facing migrant workers. "Workers who have to pay contributions from their salary become more vulnerable to exploitation and are more likely to be willing to enter black market labour."
Meanwhile, experts agreed that implementation of any recruitment agency law would be difficult, unless there was a reciprocal arrangement between the governments of two countries.
"It is a good initiative by the Labour Ministry but enforcing this will be the main issue," said KV Shamsudheen, the chairman of the Pravasi Bandhu Welfare Trust, which offers free financial advice to India's low-income workers. "There should also be a reciprocal system so that small recruitment agents in villages in India who illegally charge workers high fees can be punished."
* With additional reporting by Ramola Talwar Badam