UAE Takes Strong Exception To HRW Report On Workers


A 15-page report released by the HRW at a Press conference yesterday urged the UAE government to revise the law to protect workers’ rights to organise themselves and bargain collectively. The report also said that the draft law should, among other things, cover such groups as domestic workers. 

In a statement, Dr Ali bin Abdullah Al Kaabi, Minister of Labour, said he appreciated the comments made by the HRW about the draft labour law in the UAE and the ministry would take them into consideration. He said the revised draft law has been placed on the Internet and is receiving feedback from relevant organisations. 

The effort made by the MoL to seek public opinion about the revised draft labour law underscored its profound belief in the principle of transparency and the importance of taking views of all relevant parties, including HRW, into consideration, the minister added.

Pointing out that the ministry was still receiving responses to the revised draft law, Dr Al Kaabi said, “Based on our values and keenness to grant workers their rights, we are going to thoroughly study all proposals.”

Reiterating that the UAE has a clean record of protecting workers’ rights, he said the ministry would cover in its study the HRW’s proposals as well as opinions expressed by other parties.

An earlier statement issued by the ministry said the HRW did not accurately reflect either the progress that had been made in addressing labour issues or the seriousness with which the government was dealing with these issues.

However, the UAE government, the statement said, “welcomes constructive input and discussions from international bodies and organisations, with regard to the area of guest worker welfare in the country”.

Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s Middle East Director, said the Labour Ministry’s request for comments on the draft law represented an important step towards reform and transparency in the UAE. “And we hope that the Labour Ministry takes advantage of this process to revise the serious flaws in its draft law.”

She said the law failed to address a series of abuses against migrant workers, who comprise 95 per cent of the country’s workforce, and “are particularly at the risk of abuse”.

Further, she claimed, in a blatant contravention of international standards, the proposed law contains no provisions on workers’ rights to organise themselves and bargain collectively and explicitly punishes striking workers.

“The UAE must amend its draft law to respect workers’ rights to organise, bargain collectively and strike,” said Whitson, alleging that over the past one year, the authorities have been dealing with workers staging demonstrations, rather than addressing the poor working conditions that fuel labour unrest.

She pointed out that the draft law also violates international standards by arbitrarily excluding from its purview all domestic workers employed in private households, public sector workers, security workers and most farming and grazing workers, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation.

“The government should extend equal labour protection to domestic workers instead of reinforcing the discrimination they already face,” she said.

Moreover, she said, the draft law discriminates against women workers and treats women workers as dependents rather than as competent adults with full and independent legal capacity.

The draft labour law, she claimed, also fails to incorporate the 2001 Dubai Court of Cassation ruling that prohibits employers from confiscating employees’ passports.

HRW officials also stressed the need for employment contracts and instructions to be made available to workers in a language they speak fluently to eliminate miscommunication of facts that further fuels the exploitation of migrant workers in the UAE.

Besides, they said there is a need for the government to enforce its labour laws by providing effective penalties for violations and stringent punishment to employers. The current law continues to provide weak financial penalties of between Dh 6,000 and Dh 12,000 for employers found violating the law, they added.

“The current fine of a few thousand dollars is no deterrent for employers with multi-million-dollar contracts,” said Whitson.

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