x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

A major step towards needed labour reforms

As The National has reported, new laws announced by the Ministry of Labour aim to provide employees more freedom to change jobs.

For Blossom and DH, July was a difficult month. Rent was paid, their cats fed, and the family trip to Spain only a week away. Then came the termination letter. "Bombshell dropped yesterday," Blossom lamented on a UAE-based blog, frantic for advice. "We're trying to understand when we'd have to leave, where we go, and what we do with the cats.

"I am so disappointed in this treatment, but shouldn't be surprised."

This is, of course, a faceless tale told from the safety of the internet. That doesn't make it any less real for those of the country's skilled and professional expatriate workers who have faced similar conundrums. Now, improvements to the labour law should make this situation less frequent.

As The National reported yesterday, new laws announced by the Ministry of Labour aim to provide employees more freedom to change jobs. Professionals will not require a no-objection certificate to work for another company. Gone, too, are the dreaded six-month freezes in employment when one job ends. Unskilled workers, meanwhile, will see their contract lengths drop from three years to two.

It's difficult to overstate the magnitude of these changes, and how important these rules are to the nation's future. For employees, the advantage is obvious. If an employer makes false promises or working conditions are unsuitable, they can look for a new job.

Businesses, too, will reap rewards by having access to a more competitive labour pool. More employees with experience in the country will be available. As Labour Minister Saqr Ghobash noted yesterday, the rules are intended to create "many options for recruiting skilful workers as per the supply-demand equation". The UAE will, in other words, sharpen its competitive edge.

These changes are clearly a step in the right direction. They should not, however, be seen as the end of the road. Gaps in enforcement will limit the effectiveness of the best labour law. Those at the lowest rungs of employment face the highest risk of abuse. As we report today, Indian workers in Dubai have been flooding a newly created resource centre with complaints about unpaid salaries, voided contracts and illegally held passports.

Announcing the new rules at the weekend, said it was his hope that they would "improve the labour market and limit any wrong practices". There are many ways to do that, but one is further reform.Employees are guaranteed end of service benefits when they leave the country, but many employers fail to provision for it. Labour groups have also argued that minimum wage rules are needed for those of all skill sets, not just white-collar workers.

Improvements to the country's labour law do not just benefit employees but contribute to its long-term economic health. The laws announced at the weekend will have clear benefits for both.