x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

On Your Side: Reduced Ramadan hours for all; it's the law

Plus advice on being mindful of exchange rates and an advisory about automatic enrolment in credit card default programme from The National's consumer advocate.

Our company has been following a "reduced working hours during Ramadan" policy since it was set up some six years ago. But the new head of HR has decided that any non-fasting employee should work regular hours and only those who are fasting get to leave earlier. This has not gone down well with the rest of the people because we do not get paid overtime for the additional working hours. What is the legal situation? A lot of companies do not work reduced hours, but if that is against the law, can the company be penalised or forced to comply? - JG Dubai

Article 65 of UAE Labour Law states: "During the month of Ramadan, normal working hours shall be reduced by two hours." Because the company is breaking the law by not offering shorter working hours to everyone, you can report it to the Ministry of Labour, which should investigate, insist the law be enforced and, in some cases, fine companies. The Ministry of Labour's help line number is 800 665.

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In March, I paid a bill for A$45,589.54 using my Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB) Visa credit card. When I received an SMS confirming the payment, I was shocked by the amount debited, which was about Dh5,200 more than I had expected. I immediately phoned ADCB's customer service to ask why I had been charged considerably more than I had expected based on the exchange rate at that time. I was advised that the applicable Visa exchange rate on the day was far worse than generally quoted and that the transaction was subject to a 2.99 per cent charge because it was in a foreign currency as per ADCB's terms and conditions. I asked the ADCB phone-banking consultant if there was any way this transaction could be reversed. I was advised that the only way to do this was by contacting the beneficiary and asking them to cancel the transaction. I then enquired if there was anything I should be aware of if I went ahead and reversed the payment. I was assured that I would get a complete refund. On this basis, I contacted the beneficiary and they agreed to reverse the transaction. To my complete disbelief, I discovered that I had been credited with A$45,589.54, which was at an even lower exchange rate, an amount of Dh165,945. My enquiries with ADCB and the beneficiary have shown that the initial payment was "received" and then "returned". The beneficiary should not have accepted the original payment in order for the exact same amount to be returned, but I had not been made aware of this. At my request and given the misleading advice, ADCB refunded the 2.99 per cent fee, but I am still out of pocket Dh8,207 in exchange-rate losses. I made an initial mistake and wanted to rectify it and relied on the advice of an ADCB phone consultant to do this, but their advice left me with this loss. ADCB advised me further that they cannot assist with exchange rates because this is regulated by Visa. I contacted Visa, but it said it couldn't resolve the issue without the co-operation of the issuer bank because the bank is the one that pays the money back. Can you contact ADCB on my behalf to see if they will give me a refund? SRH, Abu Dhabi

I passed the query on to senior staff at ADCB. It took some time to investigate the matter, but we have the best possible outcome. The bank is not really at fault because there is a difference between a cancelled transaction and one that is returned, as well as some of the fees being due to Visa's costs. But as a gesture of goodwill, ADCB has agreed to refund all of SRH's losses. A bank spokesman said: "Our customers are important to us and to enable problem solving for them, we have a service quality unit that handles all customers' issues and complaints. Regarding this case mentioned, please note that an investigation into the customer complaint indicates that the bank representatives have provided accurate information to her during all her interactions with the bank. We would also like to inform you that we have been in constant touch with the customer and have taken some exceptional steps to resolve the issue to her satisfaction."

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Credit Shield warning

It has come to my attention that a number of banks have been writing to their credit-card customers to advise them that they are adding Credit Shield to their account. This is a form of insurance designed to repay the balance, or cover monthly payments if the card holder is made redundant, is unable to work due to illness, or dies. The detail, however, is in the small print and each plan varies, so the specifics must be checked to ensure that you will actually be covered. The cost varies between companies and the cover provided and is usually between 0.6 per cent and 1 per cent of the outstanding balance. The issue here is that banks are adding this to cards automatically and simply informing customers by letter that this has been done, without a clear opt-out facility. Due to the vagaries of the country's postal system, some customers will probably not receive written advice and the first they will know about it is via an extra payment on their bill. The letters I have seen are not clearly worded, so I would suggest that all cardholders who do not require this cover contact their card providers to ensure they are not being charged for something they do not want. Banks should be giving customers the opportunity to opt in, not forcing them to take action to opt out. I consider this to be poor practice from the banks, especially because there are major legal cases for similar actions ongoing in other countries, which are costing banks millions of dirhams in compensation.

On Your Side is written by Keren Bobker, an independent financial adviser with Holborn Assets in Dubai. Write to her at keren@holbornassets.com with queries for this column or for advice on any other financial planning matter.

onyourside@thenational.ae