x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Police officials call for peaceful end to protests

While labour strikes are illegal in the UAE for public workers, there has been an increase in private-sector protests.

There has been an increase in private-sector protests, like one in the Al Habtoor Engineering company, above, over late and unfair wages.
There has been an increase in private-sector protests, like one in the Al Habtoor Engineering company, above, over late and unfair wages.

Abu Dhabi // Police officials yesterday called for a new approach to resolving a rising number of private-sector labour disputes, saying the emphasis should be "not on confrontation but on negotiation". While labour strikes are illegal in the UAE for public workers, there has been an increase in private-sector protests over late wages, bad living conditions and the lack of overtime pay.

Some have been violent, but the officials said yesterday that non-violent demands of labourers should be considered and resolved peacefully in keeping with global customs. "When wages are delayed by one or two months, workers are forced to protest," said Col Mohammed Eid al Mazloum, director of the operations department at Sharjah Police. "We resorted to or were forced towards negotiating because of the consequences of 2008 and 2009. Policemen had to interfere to end these problems."

Speaking at Abu Dhabi Police Headquarters during a conference analysing security implications of the global financial crisis in the UAE, Col al Mazloum showed footage of vandalism he said was caused by protesting labourers, including images of overturned vehicles and broken police cars. Most of the disputes, he said, were a result of "late wages, lack of over time, living conditions". He declined to give a specific number of strikes during the last year but said that most started with workers showing up late, followed by halting work, then assembling and taking to the streets.

Dr Jasem Antali, a police officer and labour-law expert who was also attending the conference, agreed that officials should concentrate more on resolving conflicts than on breaking up strikes. "There needs to be an emphasis not on confrontation, but on negotiation," he said. While changes to labour laws governing strikes in the UAE were unlikely, he said, "we should adopt a peaceful method". He added that a better legal framework was needed to govern labour and financial disputes.

The Dubai Police general department of legal and disciplinary control, which runs a centre for the monitoring of human trafficking, has received 344 worker complaints since it was set up in February, 76 per cent of which were related to non-payment of salaries, according to the centre's records. Forty of the 69 protests staged in Dubai since February were because of non-payment of salaries, the department said.

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