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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Large rise in legal rights cases being filed by labourers due to 'better education'

'Many did not know they could take legal action against their employers,' said head of prosecutions at the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department

Labourers work at a construction site in Dubai. REUTERS
Labourers work at a construction site in Dubai. REUTERS

More workers are launching legal battles against their employers to fight for their labour rights, an Abu Dhabi prosecutor has said.

In 2017, there was a total of ten cases filed with the public prosecution over unpaid wages, whereas this year, since the beginning of January until March 19, there has already been a total of 22.

Cases of work injuries also seem to be on the rise after a large drop last year. In 2016, 90 cases reached public prosecution, last year there were only 48; however, this year, up until March 19, there has been 26 – a figure that is likely to triple by the end of the year.

Hassan Al Hammadi, head of prosecutions at the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department, said this increase is a result of efforts to facilitate legal procedures for workers.

For instance, ADJD launched a mobile court that travels in a bus to labour camps in order to register their lawsuits.

Since its launch, it has processed the cases of hundreds of labourers.

“And since the service workers’ law has been issued more workers have been educated about their rights,” Mr Al Hammadi said.

The list of amendments to the service workers’ law will be released soon ahead of the law's implementation. He said it has already been sent to the cabinet for approval.

“Many did not know they could take legal action against their employers,” he said.

There have been cases where employers have been fined up to Dh5 million for not paying wages and lectures in labour rights have been held for labourers at camps in all languages.

Khalid Said, a legal consultant in Abu Dhabi, said it is evident that workers have become well aware of their legal rights.

For instance, a worker has to receive his job offer letter ahead of coming to the UAE, and once they arrive, the contract should be identical to the offer.

“Previously, however, they used to offer them a certain amount, and after they arrive they would tell them it is minus this for housing, and minus that for transportation,” Mr Said said.

“The Ministry has set limits to those who used to take advantage of unskilled workers. It has also made it very easy for them to get access to the Ministry. The call center provides options in all languages not only Arabic and English, so finding someone that he could explain the issue in their own language makes a big difference.”

Another factor behind the increase in cases filed by workers, he said, is the economic imporvements over the last year.

“And I believe there will be more this year.”

A spokesperson for the embassy of Pakistan said the UAE government has placed a lot of measures “to protect the rights of blue collar workers in the country.”

“It provides them with an expeditious and effective mechanism to safeguard their rights through labour courts,” they said.

“Generally, these disputes are not only resolved in a fairly expeditious manner, but also in a very judicious way."