x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Visa workers lose their jobs with a day's notice

More than 20 workers at a visa processing centre for Indian nationals learnt an hour before closing time that they had been sacked.

DUBAI // Nearly two dozen workers have been fired with one day's official notice after their jobs were outsourced to another company.

The 21 workers, mostly customer-service assistants at Empost's Indian visa and passport application centre, received termination letters on Monday telling them Tuesday was their last working day.

The staff, mostly from the Empost-manned Indian Passport and Visa Applications Centre (IPVAC), became redundant after the Indian diplomatic missions outsourced their work to a new company in April this year.

"It was all so sudden," said one worker. "When the Indian visa operations were given to another company, they assured us that our jobs were safe. They could have at least informed us in advance so we could have looked for other employment. This has come as a blow to my family."

Another employee said: "I have to look for another job before this visa is cancelled. We had completed a two-day training programme when we were told we were being terminated. My family is dependent on my salary and it's going to be very difficult for us now."

However, he added that "we have been promised two months salary".

The expatriate staff, mostly Arabs and Asians, were working as clerks and customer service officers. They were earning between Dh2,500 and Dh3,500 a month.

Empost confirmed that 14 staff hired specifically to work at the centre had lost their jobs. Another seven from the general operations hub who worked as clerks had also been asked to leave.

Empost also acknowledged the staff had been given just a day's written notice, but said they had previously been told about the project's closure.

"They were sounded verbally since April on the situation and asked to find alternative jobs. This is as per our corporate manual and procedures," said Sultan al Midfa, Empost's chief executive.

In 2008, the Indian missions in the Emirates announced their decision to outsource the collection of visa applications to speed up the process. The services had been outsourced to Empost, a UAE-based logistics and courier company, which began operations at the centre in 2009. At the end of the contract, BLS International was awarded the contract to manage six of the 14 centres across the UAE from April 6.

BLS had its own staff,and did not need all of the Empost workers, but said it would hire some of them depending on its needs.

"A number of Empost staff have approached us since we started," said Anuj Mihani, the head of operations at BLS. "A few are already on board. Not many have come to us recently. But we would hire them depending on their competence and our availability."

Mr al Midfa explained why Empost decided to lay off the workers.

"This centre closed down in April 2011 after Empost lost the contract of the Indian consulate services, so there was no alternative but to ask them to leave," he said.

In view of the closure of the projects, and the general decline in the courier industry, staffing had to be reduced, Empost officials said. The lay-offs followed company procedures, including the lack of prior notice.

"Our corporate manual is approved by our board of directors, and Empost does not fall under the Ministry of Labour," Mr al Midfa said.

If the company had been subject to labour ministry's rulesm, workers would have been guaranteed end-of-service benefit ranging from 30 days to three months' pay for those who had completed their probation period.

The employees will receive up to two months' salary, based on their contractual grade, company officials said. If staff are not entitled to the two-month salary according to their pay grade, they will still get end-of-service benefits including the gratuity and the balance of annual leave paid out in cash.

Mr al Midfa said Empost had made some efforts to relocate redundant staff within BLS, even though those employees had been asked to look for alternative options.

"The management kept the doors open for them to find new jobs while attempts were made to absorb them in other divisions or in subsidiaries of Emirates Post group with full salary, and they were verbally told to look for other jobs," he said.

According to Empost, 72 people were hired to work at the centre when it began operations two years ago. Officials said about 32 resigned after the centre's operations were shut down.

The former employees say more lay-offs are imminent, though Mr al Midfa said: "This will definitely depend on the market and industry trend,"

pkannan@thenational.ae