x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Open days offer slim last hope

Weekly open days at the Ministry of Labour are to provide a forum for employers and employees to air their grievances.

ABU DHABI // Every Monday they come bearing court decisions, passports, birth certificates and handwritten letters explaining their circumstances. The line is long and time is short, the exchanges abrupt and intense. But rarely does the outcome change. Dozens of mainly white-collar workers and employers show up every Monday for the Ministry of Labour's "open day", a session lasting for a little more than an hour in a ministry building in Khalifa Park where Humaid bin Demas, the acting director general, listens to their grievances.

Occasionally, Mr bin Demas seems to resolve a problem with his signature, but only where laws and rules have been followed to the letter. Most often, however, the result remains unchanged. Yesterday, a doctor who looked in her late 30s was one of those left disappointed. She started calmly, explaining that she had been fired from a medical centre she had helped to establish. A court of appeal had already ordered her former company to pay her two months' salary.

But she said it had also ruled that the dismissal was not arbitrary and had refused to approve the transfer of her sponsorship to another employer. Once sponsorships are cancelled, individuals have one month to leave the country. "I have no money and was left homeless for seven months," she said. But Mr bin Demas told her there was nothing he could do, repeating it when she began to plead. She nodded, holding back tears as she gathered up her papers.

"I urge employers and workers to abide by the rulings of courts," Mr bin Demas told reporters. "There is nothing I can do about a decision by a court of appeal." Occasionally a labourer will show up, but generally company representatives try to resolve their issues, the majority of which are visa-related. An alternative for people who cannot get to one of the open-day sessions is to try to resolve their problems via a free telephone number available in 12 languages.