x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Ministry of Labour targets violations

Government inspectors say they have found unpaid and underpaid workers, overcrowded housing and other violations of labour law.

DUBAI // Government inspectors have visited more than 1,800 worksites and labour camps and say they found unpaid and underpaid workers, overcrowded housing and other violations of labour law. The Ministry of Labour inspected camps housing more than 100 employees each, construction sites, factories and other private companies. Abdelrazaq Qambar, the ministry's chief inspector, said at a meeting with representatives of private companies that some firms, to cut costs, have added as much as 40 per cent to the population of the camps. Some companies, he said, have cut meals to workers from three a day to one.

"When we started inspecting companies in the country and labour camps we expected to see them empty," Mr Qambar said. "But, on the contrary, labour camps are overcrowded due to companies looking to cut costs and keep staff in the UAE for when the situation improves." "We will not release figures but the problem is not specific to Dubai and the number of violations are equally distributed for each violation," he said on the sidelines of yesterday's meeting. "However, late payment and reduction in wages are the most two consistent violations."

Some companies have given workers "unpaid leave" or terminated their employment without paying the legally required end-of-service benefits. The ministry has told companies, some of which it says are struggling to meet their obligations because of the global recession, that breaches of the laws will not be tolerated. Mr Qambar said companies would have all their transactions with the ministry put on hold until they resolved their violations of labour law. If they do not do so, the ministry said it would refer cases to the courts.

The ministry especially wants companies that have put workers on unpaid leave to either find them new jobs or terminate their visas and send them home, said Jasim al Banna, head of the ministry's legal affairs department."What's the point of leaving people with nothing to do here? This is not the policy of the UAE. If you are not working, you have no business here." Mr Qambar said at the meeting the ministry is considering revising the law on automatic stand-down periods as part of a wider strategy to improve the flow of labour force and retaining skilled workers in the country.

A law firm that represents many of the UAE's biggest firms said private companies would no longer give open-ended contracts to employees. Alex McGeoch, head of employment at Hadef, said: "What is going on is unprecedented. Before the immediate global downturn, a lot of interest evolved around upgrading employment documentation like employee share option plans. Now companies are looking at ways of reducing staff and safeguarding their business if this happens again."

He said companies had found it difficult to navigate the labour law during the downturn. "We are getting calls on daily basis from companies asking how to manage, asking what is the right and appropriate way to manage terminations." shafez@thenational.ae