x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Companies warned over cheating on workers' payouts

Ministry of Labour hits out at firms that press employees to sign away benefits.

DUBAI // Companies are strong-arming employees into giving up back pay and end-of-service benefits to leave their jobs, the Ministry of Labour warned yesterday. However, a senior ministry official was at pains to point out that such pressure made any agreement invalid, and that workers had the right to file a complaint if their employer tried it.

Humaid bin Deemas, the acting director general at the Ministry of Labour, said employees had to be given their dues, "even if the worker has signed documents" waiving them. "Any document, including the ministry's official documents such as the cancellation paper, stating that the worker has received his dues and signed by him/her are invalid unless the worker has actually been paid," he said. He said some employers tried to force their employees to give up rights such as end-of-service benefits and salaries for return of the no-objection certificate, which is required either to shift jobs within the UAE or to permanently leave the country for a job elsewhere.

In such cases, workers have a year to complain to the ministry. "The ministry take this matter seriously," Mr bin Deemas said. "Any worker who had to go through similar situations can complain to us and we will refer the case to court as they have the authority and tools to prove if such violations have taken place." He said the abuses occurred with workers in every level of employment, from labourers to senior professionals.

Among the cases outlined by Mr bin Deemas was one in which an employer insisted on an engineer giving up a month's salary before issuing his no-objection certificate. In another case, a saleswoman gave up two months' salary in return for the certificate. The ministry has referred similar cases to court and would continue to refer any other case. In both those cases, the court had ruled in the employee's favour, Mr bin Deemas said. However, he did not disclose the number of similar cases that had gone before the courts.

Other rights given up in return for certificates included overtime pay and annual leave, according to Mr bin Deemas. "The worker should not give away his or her right to be paid when working overtime or having a paid annual leave," he said, "and if they have done this they can change this even if they have signed documents stating otherwise." The practice is not the only ploy used by unscrupulous companies to get out of paying end-of-service benefits.

In October, Mr bin Deemas highlighted companies that filed false absconding reports for sacked employees. He told companies that they would be prosecuted for forgery if they were found to have used the tactic. "We will not let [the absconding report] under any circumstances become a tool for employers who want to escape their duties or want to take vindictive actions against their employees," he said then.

The Gulf-wide system of requiring workers to get their employers' permission before leaving their jobs has been the subject of past criticism from human-rights groups. In May, Bahrain announced that it would change the law in August to allow foreign workers to change jobs without their employer's consent. A similar move is thought to be under consideration in Qatar. @Email:wissa@thenational.aee