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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 16 November 2018

Vulnerable workers need full protection

An online employment system between the UAE and India is aiming to attack exploitation
Workers who have fallen prey to unscrupulous agents swapping contracts and charging exorbitant fees will be protected by a pioneering scheme between the UAE and India. Antonie Robertson / The National
Workers who have fallen prey to unscrupulous agents swapping contracts and charging exorbitant fees will be protected by a pioneering scheme between the UAE and India. Antonie Robertson / The National

One of the few downsides of the UAE’s large foreign workforce is that the least-skilled and lowest-paid are so keen to take advantage of the transformative effects of remittances that they become vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous recruitment agents. Despite laws banning contract substitution and recruitment fees, these practices remain widespread for those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder.

This is not simply a problem for the workers involved, many of whom arrive here to find that they will be earning far less than they had agreed in their country of origin, exacerbating the crippling recruitment fees they resorted to paying to get the job in the first place. This is also a problem for this country’s standing abroad.

This is why the eMigrate agreement with India deserves to be recognised as an important step forward. As The National reported yesterday, the online hiring system for Indian workers will prevent agents from charging exorbitant and illegal recruitment fees and halt the practice of contract substitution. The initiative is not simply designed to help unskilled labourers but also skilled workers such as nurses.

Despite this positive step, nobody should underestimate the difficulty of the task ahead. These practices are particularly difficult to stamp out because the illegal acts occur outside the UAE’s jurisdiction and, in many cases, involve the complicity of workers from countries where corruption is simply the way to get anything done. The Philippines government, for example, requires a minimum monthly wage of $400 (Dh, 1369) for its migrant workers, but investigations by the consul in Dubai showed many workers considered contracts that met the condition were for “government show” only and not an indication of what they would actually earn.

One key initiative in this system is the establishment of a website, emigrate.gov.in that will allow employers in the UAE to make contact directly with workers in India, bypassing the middlemen and, most importantly, the fees they charge.

The UAE is right to take seriously the rights of the least sophisticated workers, because their exploitation has the potential to damage this country’s hard-earned reputation for fairness.