x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Reforms proceed as work protests drop

Minister of Interior approves plan to deal with disputes, which takes into account living conditions and health and safety of labourers.

DUBAI // The number of labour protests have more than halved in the first three months of this year, figures from the Higher Committee for Labour Crisis Management show.

There were 34 protests in this year's first quarter, compared with 69 in the same period last year, the figures released yesterday state.

For individual emirates, Abu Dhabi had 14, (down from 21 in the first quarter of last year); Dubai 10 (26); Sharjah six (10); Ras al Khaimah three (six); and Ajman one (three).

Umm al Qaiwain and Fujairah did not register any labour protests this year, having had two and one respectively in the first quarter of last year.

The head of the crisis management committee Lt Gen Dahi Khalfan Tamim, who is also the chief of Dubai Police, said the main trigger for protests was delayed salaries.

"Fifty per cent of strikes took place because of delayed salary payments, while 30 per cent were due to salary increase demands and 20 per cent were registered for unpaid overtime," Lt Gen Tamim said.

The figures were released as the Minister of Interior, Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, approved a plan by the committee to deal with labour issues across the country.

Gen Tamim welcomed the minister's approval, saying it proved the Government's commitment to labour rights and transparency.

"The committee works with complete transparency when it comes to labour rights in the country and has even taken into account the latest Human Rights Watch [HRW] report, which claimed that labourers do not have the right to lobby or protest, and face punishments if they strike," he said.

HRW issued its annual report in January.

"The report states that the labour law excludes domestic staff and has no minimum pay for them," said Lt Gen Tamim. "In fact, we have set up a special plan for domestic workers to protect their rights."

Last month the UAE was a signatory to an International Labour Organisation accord on the rights of domestic staff.

But no announcement has yet been made about how or when the convention's tenets, which include a mandatory day off each week and a minimum wage, are to be enacted into law.

Gen Tamim also pointed to an incident in May when hundreds of labourers headed from Sharjah to the Ministry of Labour in Dubai in protest against a company that had failed to pay their wages for six months. "The company owner was called to the ministry and referred to prosecutors to face charges," he said.

"All the salaries have been paid and the employees who wanted to be repatriated were sent home, and the rest allowed to seek employment elsewhere."

Gen Tamim said the approved plan took into account the living conditions of labourers, as well as their health and safety.

It also sets up a system for labourers to register complaints.

"We aim to resolve the labourers' disputes in a manner that will assure that their rights are met, while assuring the safety of the country's security," he said.

Under the plan, authorities will respond to labour strikes within 15 minutes.

Specialists will arrive at the scene within 45 minutes to register the workers' demands and review their work conditions.

"Company managers will also be called to the site and an immediate decision will be made on the next steps," said Gen Tamim.

Once a decision has been made about what action to take, the crisis committee will release a press statement, he said.

amustafa@thenational.ae