x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Increase in labour court cases

The number of cases heard in labour court over the past six months has almost tripled from the same period last year.

DUBAI // The number of cases heard in labour court over the past six months has almost tripled from the same period last year, officials say, reflecting the dour economic climate. More than 2,658 cases have been filed with the court in the first half of this year, compared with 940 cases in the first half of 2008. Lawyers say they have seen a massive rise in cases as companies make redundant huge swathes of the workforce.

In the last quarter of 2008, an estimated 3,400 jobs were lost in Dubai, the majority of them in construction and property companies that had scaled down or cancelled projects. But some companies are refusing to pay commissions to their employees after terminating their contracts, said Yousif al Hamadi, an advocate in the labour courts. "Some real estate companies take advantage of the market situation, where they conduct large staff redundancies and pay the severance pay but hold back on the commissions, which can be valued in the hundreds of thousands," he said.

Companies must pay whatever the labour court orders; if workers do not receive their money, they have been advised to return and lodge an official complaint. The case of Rajendra Prasad, 35, of Rajasthan in India is emblematic of many cases coming before the court. On Monday Mr Prasad, who arrived in the Emirates 10 months ago, was in court with almost 100 other people who worked for the same Sharjah company.

They said they had not been paid in three months, and learned the court had ordered the company to pay their back wages and cover their plane tickets home within a week. "The company had no contracts, and we were just sitting in the labour camps," Mr Prasad said. When water stopped flowing into the camp, the men had to bring it from a local mosque. With very little money for food, it was becoming impossible to live.

"I spent everything I had here," he said. "There is no saving and nothing for my family back home." Another worker, who asked not to be named, was attending court for the first time to register a complaint against his company. "They have not paid me for two months," the Pakistani said. "I hope to get my hard-earned money." So far, the court has received almost 2,200 "lower cases", or suits involving less than Dh100,000 (US$27,000), and 470 "higher cases", involving larger amounts.

During the same period last year, there were 791 lower cases and 149 higher cases. One of the labourers lined up at the translator's office for help in filling out forms yesterday was Mohamed Haroun. The stonemason from Bangladesh joined 12 of his former co-workers in filing a grievance against a contracting company, seeking wages they said had not been paid since January. Mr Haroun said he was owed in excess of Dh20,000, more than half representing what he was charged for his visa when he joined the company. Mr al Hamadi said employees often sought "moral compensation" as well as financial, but rarely won.

"Unless these claims are proven, the courts will only look at the evident facts before them," he said. @Email:pmenon@thenational.ae