Foreign recruitment agencies brace for changes to UAE laws that will transform labour supply industry, charge them with protecting labourers’ rights.
Recruiting proposals draw 'wait and see' reaction
ABU DHABI // Recruiting agencies are bracing for a transformation of the industry as proposed regulatory changes designed to charge them with protecting labourers’ rights move a step closer to becoming law.
“The intention here is very noble, especially in regard to managing labour costs and labour welfare,” M?K Lokesh, the Indian ambassador to the UAE, said after attending a two-day conference and workshop organised by the UAE’s Ministry of Labour, where representatives from several Asian labour-supplying countries as well as the International Labour Organisation and International Organisation for Migration joined the discussions.
“The ministry has already done a lot in regard to worker accommodation, increase of wages and worker mobility. They are already doing and we hope they will continue doing so, but we wish they would quicken the pace.”
Stella Banawis, the deputy administrator of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, said the UAE should be praised for showing commitment to the protection of migrant workers.
“There is a need to have a continuous dialogue between labour-sending and receiving countries,” she told the conference. “The move of the UAE is commendable; it hopes to come up with a regional framework.”
Participants from other countries receiving migrant labour in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar attended the two-day workshop.
“We looked into the recruitment process, the best practices, and what problems exist in the different sending countries, or what they call the countries of origin,” she said.
Among the recommendations from the conference were:
• Emiratisation of recruitment agencies
• Requiring the agencies to ensure that workers fully understand their contracts before signing
• A harder line on contract substitution
• Requiring agencies to return any recruitment fees paid by a worker
Sarmila Parajuli, the director of BSD HR solutions, a Dubai-based labour consultancy firm that specialises in advising clients on hiring semi-skilled workers from Nepal, attended the workshop and made recommendations. However, like most participants, Ms Parajuli said she would wait until the next conference, in February, to draw firm conclusions.
“Our recommendation is regulate all parties, including the country of origin,” she said. “There are lots of pieces to look at.”
Ms Parajuli said she would also like to see the countries that sent workers to the UAE offer basic training to them first. “This kind of workshop is really needed. We know the problems and solutions,” she said.
“There are so many parties involved where the problems come from. They are all inter-related. We have to be more aware and whoever we are, we all have to work from each side to safeguard the labourers.”
The representatives of the labour-supplying countries noted the similarities of their recruitment processes.
“During the workshops, we looked into how to reduce the high recruitment costs for workers going abroad, and the possibility for governments of labour-sending countries to provide loans to them,” Ms Banawis said. “But the concern was, when do we provide the loan – before the worker leaves, or when he or she applies for the job? How will the money be recovered?”
She commended the UAE for its wage protection system, which is aimed at keeping track of salary transactions.
Victor Fernandez Jr, the president of the Philippine Association of Service Exporters, a group of 700 licensed recruitment agencies, said the group welcomed the “no placement fee” policy recommended by the federal Government.
According to the ruling, agencies will be obliged to return any recruitment fees paid by a worker, whether in the UAE or abroad. Under the law, it is the employer’s responsibility to pay agency fees.
“It is considered illegal in Guam for recruitment agencies in the Philippines to collect placement fees from applicants,” he said. “And we now have the UAE introducing a similar policy. In a way, it is an answer to one of our goals: to change the negative image that people have against recruiters for charging exorbitant fees to applicants.”
But Mr Fernandez said he needed to know the monitoring mechanism to ensure that recruiters did not collect fees from workers.
“How will they know if violations have been committed?” he said. “It may be through self-declaration. For instance, a worker facing problems in his job approaches the Ministry of Labour for help and declares that his recruiter had collected fees.”
Labour-supplying countries agree to standardise workers’ contracts
Representatives from six countries that supply labour to the UAE and other nations have agreed to work towards the implementation of a single employment contract for all workers entering the Emirates and other GCC countries.
The proposal, intended to protect expatriate workers from exploitation, was put forward at an international labour conference held in Dubai this week.
Officials from the Philippines, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh attended the workshop, which was hosted by the UAE Ministry of Labour in co-operation with the International Labour Organisation, International Organisation for Migration and the office for the Higher Commission on Human Rights.
According to UAE labour ministry officials, the aim is “to develop standard contracts that can be transferred electronically from Countries of Origin to Countries of Destination to enable workers to receive expected wages and working conditions”.
“The recommendation by the ministry to develop standard contracts that will be transferred electronically is indeed a laudable move by the UAE government,” said Nasser Munder, the Filipino labour attache in Abu Dhabi who attended the two-day workshop.
* Wafa Issa and Ramona Ruiz