x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

A labour law is only as good as its bite

Encouraging the private sector to take on more Emiratis, and pushing Emiratis into the private sector, will not come without significant effort and reform. For the country's economic and social well being, it will be effort well spent.

At 46, changing careers will not be easy for RM. He'll face competition from younger workers, maybe even a gap in technical abilities. Yet these are the least of his worries. First and foremost, the Emirati father must navigate a labour law some see as uneven.

As The National reported this week, the former Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Industry employee has spent the last year battling a labour bureaucracy, to no avail. Courts have ruled that he's entitled to a so-called letter of experience - a document new employers require - but his old firm won't produce one, and the courts can't force it to do so.

The details of RM's dismissal are vague, but his complaint boils down to this: his career is being held hostage without the letter. "Why is there no place for Emiratis to go with complaints?" he wonders.

RM is not the only one asking these hard questions. Former members of the Federal National Council, as we report today, say that despite efforts to increase the percentage of citizens in the private sector, labour laws for foreign employees remain clearer, since many of their protections are connected to their residency visas, which, of course, Emiratis don't require.

Government officials have sought to address this oversight, though most of their focus has been on job creation not regulation. Public sector growth has received most of the boost. In the private sector, progress has been slower.

Reversing these trends will take time, but that will also require strong support from the federal government. Expanding the opportunities for nationals in the private sector requires many things, starting with improved education that helps to build local talent. It will also require a revamped legal framework to safeguard and guarantee labour rights for all workers.

Encouraging the private sector to take on more Emiratis, and pushing Emiratis into the private sector, will not come without significant effort and reform. For the country's economic and social well being, it will be effort well spent.