x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

'Agents' still preying on job seekers

Labour ministry says it is gathering evidence against three firms that promise employment opportunities that never materialise.

ABU DHABI // Three recruitment agents who illegally charged people hundreds of dirhams to place them in jobs, including ones that never materialised, are still operating seven months after the Ministry of Labour was provided information on them.

An investigation by The National on Saturday in July found that the agents, based in Dubai and Sharjah, were illegally charging job seekers. Recruiters can only seek payment from the firms that hire the employees. The ministry, which pledged to look into the companies at the time, said this week that the three agents were still under investigation. It said it had taken action against a similar agency operating in Umm al Qaiwain.

"The Ministry of Labour has opened an investigation about the mentioned companies based on many complaints that [they are] receiving fees from candidates," said Maher Hamad al Obad, the head of the ministry's inspection sector. "The inspectors should check on each case and detect real-life practices. And so, some cases might take longer than others, as [the ministry] might need to do several undercover visits through different inspectors to achieve the needed evidence."

When called this week by a reporter posing as a job seeker, all three companies said they required candidates to pay a fee, and as before were only able to give sketchy details of supposed vacancies. One had doubled its initial charges. The agents cannot be named for legal reasons. The National on Saturday investigation found two companies that used a similar pattern: charging a Dh100 (US$27) registration fee for an initial interview, then calling a few days later for a second interview where the job seeker is charged Dh300 as a "guarantee" for the job - only to find they are never contacted again.

The firms see in excess of a 100 job-seekers a day. Another Dubai-based recruiter charges a Dh150 registration fee, though some job-seekers said they were charged as much as Dh1,500 by the agent. The company claimed it was allowed to charge fees because it is a "management consultancy" rather than a recruitment agent. When one of the recruiters was contacted this week about a telemarketer job advertised in a local newspaper - with an advertisement that clearly stated "no charges for candidates" - the reporter was asked to bring a Dh200 registration fee, double the rate the agency charged for the initial interview seven months ago.

The agent declined to disclose the name of the company the position was with, saying only it was a "Dubai free zone company". "They just target innocent people and try to take advantage," said Royston Cardoz, 37, an Indian national who was charged Dh400 by one of the recruiters to guarantee a job that never materialised. "It's just a money-making racket and they are targeting poor people. It's really sad."

Internet complaints boards are littered with grievances about the companies. On one board, more than half of the complaints against UAE-based companies this year were about the three firms. An agent at the Sharjah-based recruiter asked the reporter to bring a Dh100 fee for a secretarial job. When asked if there would be further charges, the agent said: "Just come to the office and I will explain the charges then."

Ayham Kalla, a photographer and graphic designer, who spoke to The National in July about his experiences with two of the agents, said yesterday he was not surprised the agents had not been shut down, but hoped action would be taken soon. "If they are acting illegally, then of course they should be shut down," he said. "It's immoral." Phones at the Umm al Qaiwain-based company found by the Ministry of Labour to be charging fees - Al Resala Employment Management and Consultancy - were not answered yesterday. That company was also the subject of frequent complaints.

The Ministry of Labour said it had stopped issuing work permits to the company and transferred its case to the public prosecution last week for the legal action. As well as illegally charging fees, the agency was also unlicensed, the ministry said. @Email:lmorris@thenational.ae