x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

I haven't been paid for three months - what do I do now?

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

I've been working for my present company for two years, but for the last three months no members of staff have been paid. The company claims financial difficulties and that they will be able to pay salaries again in a couple of months. People who complain are accused of being disloyal and have been threatened with sacking. But the family who owns the company appears to be financially very comfortable. No one can go on much longer like this, as we all have our own expenses each month, but what options do we have?

AG Abu Dhabi Because AG and his fellow employees have full legal contracts, according to the UAE Labour Law the company must pay them. Not doing so is a breach of contract. It is unreasonable to expect employees to work without pay. I have also been told that this company has not organised residency visas for several employees, and so they are working illegally - which could result in a very large fine for the company, and the individual workers also could be fined, imprisoned or deported.

I hope AG makes immediate contact with the Ministry of Labour on their helpline number, 800 655. The Ministry takes situations like this seriously and will act. What are my rights if banks call me regarding someone else's loans? I was called twice one morning before 9am by a rude and aggressive man who claimed to be from Citibank's legal department, asking strange and inappropriate questions about a former friend for whom I'd naively agreed to serve as a character reference on a credit card application two years ago. Apparently, this individual has done a runner from the UAE, and the bank is pursuing the debt on his credit card. I am concerned because of the rude and discriminatory questions this man asked me. He simply would not take my answers at face value and kept pressing me, strongly implying that I had a duty to respond to him because I'd been listed as a character reference. What do UAE banking laws say in this type of situation? Can character references be obligated to pay or even co-operate with banks?

AA Dubai This case has taken nearly two months of enquiries, but has finally been resolved. AA provided a simple character reference for someone who was a friend at the time. This person (we'll call him HAK) had a loan and credit card, and Citibank wrote off the debts in 2006 and 2007. Citibank made no calls to collect on the debt, as the likelihood of recovery was considered to be low. Citibank commented as follows:

"Both cases were given for follow-up to external collections agencies, so it must have been an agency collector who called the customer. This is also explaining why the call was made when in-house Citibank collections were off. We are currently raising this issue with the agency involved. Of course, while a customer owes us money and there is a police case on him, this does not justify calling his reference with demand to pay.

While as per our process, references can be contacted - generally speaking, in instances when customer is not contactable - he or she can be requested only to provide recent contact data for the actual customer. As the reference has no contractual obligations towards us, demanding repayment is not allowed and the tone and content of the conversation should be totally different than in the case of a debtor."

At my request, Citibank followed up the issue with the debt-collecting agency, which confirmed that AA was called on September 22, a public holiday. The company has denied acting improperly by being impolite or demanding repayment, but Citibank has noted AA's complaint. The bank commented further: "We would like to assure her that Citi does not hold her responsible for any outstanding issues left behind by our client."

In other words, by providing a personal or character reference for someone, you do not take on any financial responsibility for their debts. 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