x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Dubai police chief: sponsorship should be scrapped

Lt Gen Dahi Khalfan Tamim says the current employment sponsorship system is a "burden" on the UAE's economy and Emiratis.

Lt Gen Dahi Khalfan Tamim says the sponsorship system is a
Lt Gen Dahi Khalfan Tamim says the sponsorship system is a "burden" on Emiratis.

The Chief of Dubai Police has called on the Government to abolish the sponsorship system for expatriate workers, describing it as "old" and "outdated". "The sponsorship system is a burden on Emiratis who are often the sponsors of workers and the police who have to respond to most disputes and crimes," said Lt Gen Dahi Khalfan Tamim on the sidelines of a police workshop yesterday. "Employment contracts should be between companies and employees," he said. The employees "should be responsible for their own actions, paperwork and medical check-ups." The sponsorship arrangement serves as the legal basis for residency and employment for more than four million expatriates in the UAE. It is a complex system involving various government departments. Under it, an expatriate cannot change jobs without permission from his or her sponsor. When asked if the Government was considering abolishing the system, he said: "I am not quite sure if that's something they are considering, but there is talk and I would back it." A senior figure at the Ministry of Labour has said the UAE has no plans to follow the lead of Bahrain, which last month moved to scrap the sponsorship system for certain expatriate workers there. Instead, he said, the priority was to adjust existing labour laws to accommodate employees who had been made redundant but who wanted to stay in the country and look for work. The official said the UAE was concentrating on improving current policies but would not be scrapping the sponsorship system. Gen Tamim countered that if the UAE adopted Bahrain's approach it would see immediate improvements in the labour market, in labour accommodations, in access to health care and in lifestyle. He said that scrapping the present system would allow companies to pay a higher fixed salary, giving workers the freedom to choose where they wanted to live and improving job-market flexibility. "Emiratis would be better off if they didn't have to be sponsors, worry about other people and do their paperwork," he said. Scrapping the system would lead to fewer labour violations and would have reduced the number of them during the economic downturn, he argued. "Since the improvement in the economy we have seen a lot less labour violations," he said. "People are generally more aware of their rights and companies are breaking the law less frequently, but now is the time to consider other options." He urged workers who experience labour violations to report their employer and not to stage violent protests. "People can protest, like anywhere in the world people have the right to protest, but what we cannot allow is violence. Everything can be resolved peacefully," he said. In Bahrain, Majeed Alawi, the labour minister, recently announced that his country had activated a clause in the Labour Market Regulatory Authority to scrap the sponsorship system, making it the first country in the GCC to do so. But the decision has been staunchly resisted by the business community and the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The former UAE Deputy Minister of Labour, Khalid al Khazraji, said that abolishing the system would be difficult in the Emirates. During his tenure, he said, the issue had never been discussed. "There is absolutely no need to abolish the sponsorship system because so many government departments and external organisations are tied to it," said Dr Khazraji, who was also the director general of Tanmia, the body charged with empowering more Emiratis to work in the private sector. shafez@thenational.ae