x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Labour loopholes need plugging

Labour market praised in the UAE by new report but provisions must be made to protect workers before they come so they are not in debt.

The National Bureau of Statistics report has praised the Ministry of Labour's efforts to regulate the labour supply market but made recommendations to better protect workers in their home countries, where they are susceptible to unscrupulous agents who demand large sums of money in return for a work visa to the UAE. According to the new statistics, 79 per cent of the expatriate population was economically active compared to 45 per cent of Emiratis.

The ministry was recognised for introducing the wage protection system that brings more transparency to salary payments; for educating workers on health and safety; and for improving their living conditions. It also pointed out that the UAE had prosecuted several companies for violating labour laws and had increased inspections of construction sites. "Supply side considerations such as exploitation of workers in their home countries by charging them high travel and other fees, are obviously outside the jurisdiction of the UAE authorities," the report noted.

The list of illegal practices include high recruitment and transportation fees. Under UAE federal law, it is illegal to charge workers a fee to obtain a job in this country. However, thousands of workers arrive to work already in debt, having paid large sums of money to unscrupulous agents. "Sometimes, resident companies reach out to agencies in countries from where they hire workers, thus bypassing laws that govern agencies here," said Jaana Quaintance, an associate with Impactt Limited, a labour standards consultancy.

"This is the responsibility of the company here. It is not being met. There is not a lot of focus on what companies should do." Ms Quaintance recommended that companies have a contractual agreement with hiring agencies, where they specify that the workers bear no charges for being hired. The labour-supplying countries should also train their workers before they leave, she said. Other statistics showed that men were twice as likely as women to be in the workforce.

In the 25-54 age group, men were twice as active as women, 89 per cent compared to 42 per cent of women. Emirati male employment stood at 87 per cent with 38 per cent of Emirati women employed. sbhattacharya@thenational.ae