x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Workers' rights are high on the agenda

Psychological tests and a week-long training programme on workers rights are some of the recommendation the Emirates Human Rights Association (EHRA) raised with government bodies this year.

DUBAI // Psychological testing and a training programme about workers' rights are among the recommendations the Emirates Human Rights Association raised with Government bodies this year.

"We have seen more cases of attacks from domestic workers on their employers and members of the household, said Mohamed Al Hammadi, deputy chairman of the EHRA.

"We understand that in some cases there are reasons that provoke such behaviour, but that does not excuse it.

"In many of these cases the worker has come from a war-torn country or suffered some mental trauma. We will advise the Ministry of Health to include psychological exams as part of the mandatory medical test before issuing visas and work permits to domestic workers."

The EHRA also hopes to raise the issue of whether to extend the recruitment office's responsibilities to cover a worker's entire two-year contract and not only the first three months.

"Many workers turn to their recruiters when they face difficulties, and in most cases the recruiter is only interested in getting paid, so they mislead the worker or give them bad advice rather than help," Mr Al Hammadi said.

"We are currently studying a one-week training programme for all workers before they begin working. This will educate them about their rights and who they can reach out to for assistance."

He said the EHRA was working with UAE embassies in some countries to include an explanation of the employment contract as part of the visa-application interview.

"Some workers are promised more than the contract stipulates, so when they get here they are shocked by what is waiting for them."

Melca Perez, chairwoman of Gabriela, a group that provides counselling to Filipinas working here, said a key challenge for the UAE in the future would be to secure the rights of domestic workers. Gabriela receives two or three requests for help a day from women who are being mistreated or whose wages are being withheld.

The group works with women who have suffered physical, verbal or sexual abuse at the hands of their employers.

"There is no proper investigation and the victims just tend to go home instead of getting their benefits," Ms Perez said.

Of the UAE's ratification of various international human-rights conventions, she said: "Let them stand for what they have signed ... they have to address all the issues that are really promised."

A new federal law concerning domestic workers, which is in the final stages of the legislative process, could change things if strongly enforced, Ms Perez said.

The EHRA has also investigated cases of racism against employees at some companies in the UAE.

"We know it exists and we want to fix it, but people have to come forward and let us know so we can help. Our doors are always open," Mr Al Hammadi said.

Ahmed Al Omran, a legal researcher at the Ministry of Social Affairs' special needs department, said the UAE's ratification of the UN's Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2010 was a major step forward.

"It reflects the political will to promote the inclusion of disabled people in all aspects of social life," said Dr Al Omran, who is blind.

However, there is still work to be done to ensure the convention is applied.

"We proposed, maybe two years ago, some kind of a national framework regarding implementing [the convention] on a national level," he said. "And still we are waiting for an approval from the Cabinet."

There are plans to host a national forum next year on incorporating the convention into UAE law, he said. Doing so would require some amendments and policy changes - for example, adding a legal definition for discrimination and clarifying the definition of disability.

"The current definition in legislation is based on the medical model of disability rather than the rights model of disability, which is really important," Dr Al Omran said.

The UAE's federal law on the rights of people with disabilities was enacted in 2006 and amended in 2009.

"It is a comprehensive law, which covers most areas - education, employment, health services," Dr Al Omran said.

But it still lacks sanctions to regulate compliance, he said.

"We are hoping that some legal proposals and big actions will be taken mainly in terms of implementation and enforcement."

"One of our biggest criticisms is women's rights," Mr Al Hammadi said. "But I don't think people who really know the UAE can say that we don't protect women's rights here. We have leaders, ministers, CEOs who are women and in fact we find that Emirati women are harder workers than men and have much bigger opportunities open to them."

malkhan@thenational.ae