x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Any job you like - just pay me Dh300 first

Have a problem? Been treated unfairly? Our consumer advocate is on the case for you.

I recently contacted a company called Dubai Jobs that seems to be based in Canada, but also has an office in Dubai. As a Canadian national, I contacted them about various positions that they are advertising in Dubai as I really want to move to the UAE. I received a couple of what appeared to be automated responses saying I had been short-listed for two jobs. The e-mails then went on to state, "Please be advised that you would be required to submit the fee of C$85 [Dh294] to proceed with the applications, which is submitted once and covers all applications until you accept a job, as we select and apply directly to all matched positions". I had been told by a friend in the UAE that for an agency to ask a candidate for money is illegal, so I e-mailed them back asking why they were doing this and pointing out that standard practice worldwide is for the employer to pay the fees. I was shocked to receive very aggressive replies, including such phrases as "makes no difference what you say, you will never get this service for free, why should you, we don't owe you a living" and "if you are looking for a free lunch then go elsewhere". Their last comment was "we have also discussed your name on the Middle East agency forum", which sounds like a threat. Surely companies cannot get away with this. Your assistance in clarifying the situation would be appreciated and I would dearly love to stop any more people wasting their time with these people.

CB Canada When looking at the website for Dubai Jobs, they make it clear that their head office is in Canada and that the Dubai office is for employers only. When I telephoned the Dubai office, I was told that no staff are based in the Dubai branch, that it is a "representative office" only and that all enquiries must be directed to their office in Ontario, Canada, or to their website. It therefore appears that the company is circumventing UAE law that prohibits agencies from charging candidates by operating outside of the country, even though all the positions they are advertising and recruiting for are in the UAE.

To me, this seems like a very grey legal area. As far as I know, professional recruitment agencies are paid by prospective employers and do not charge candidates a fee for submitting applications. I have also seen the e-mail correspondence between Dubai Jobs and our reader and was quite shocked by the aggressive, unprofessional and threatening tone and would not expect any agency to respond to a prospective candidate in such a way.

I have e-mailed their office in Canada to ask about this, but have not received any response to my enquiries. Any companies in the UAE that attempt to charge candidates should be reported to the Ministry of Labour.

My family and I are currently based in Muscat but are relocating to Dubai in a few months. Upon our arrival in Muscat two years ago, we purchased a family car using a five-year loan taken out from HSBC, my bank in Oman. Therefore, with three years pending, we have the majority of this loan still to pay and, while we have some money saved, we will need this to cover the cost of relocation and to fund our first cheque for our new Dubai home. Armed with a signed letter of intent from my new employer in Dubai, which illustrated my (high) salary, I approached HSBC, a theoretically international bank, to ask whether this loan could be transferred to HSBC Dubai for me to continue the monthly instalments there. However, both HSBC Oman and their equivalents in the UAE tell me this is not possible and that the loan must be repaid in full prior to departing the country. I do not want to sell the car as it is very reliable. I have already invested in it significantly and, ultimately, my family and I will need it as soon as we arrive in Dubai. Do you have any suggestions of possible solutions to this problem? Any help would be greatly appreciated. MH Muscat, Oman The Middle East branches of international banks, while giving the illusion of being part of a global network, appear in practice to act autonomously, so what sounds like a simple transaction is actually rather complicated. The problem was referred to the regional communications department of HSBC, based in the UAE, and I was initially advised that: "There are certain legal obstacles in simply transferring the loan from HSBC Oman to HSBC Dubai. However, the bank is willing to review individual customer cases in order to facilitate the customer's needs.

"HSBC Oman has contacted Mr H on this matter, and the customer will be visiting our Oman branch to discuss a potential arrangement." Ten days later, HSBC wrote to me to say that "our branch in Oman has reviewed the customer's request and has provided him with options to help with his move to Dubai. "Thank you once again for bringing this matter to our attention. The bank always works with its customers on a case-by-case basis with the aim of finding a solution which best suits each customer."

I contacted Mr H for his comments. He said: "I have met with the HSBC team and they have found a solution for me. Initially, their thinking was national laws in the UAE and Oman prevented them from loaning money across borders, as it were, but they have identified a second option. "It does involve identifying a guarantor here in Oman, which isn't ideal, but hopefully this won't be a problem." Mr H said he was satisfied with the outcome.

Keren Bobker is an independent financial adviser with Holborn Assets in Dubai. Write to her at keren@holbornassets.com Letters can also be sent to onyourside@thenational.ae