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More rights, better labor

More rights, better labor

The UAE plans to make “decent work” available for all employees in the country. But will it be implemented across the board?

January 14, 2009 3:59 by

The UAE government and the International Labor Organization (ILO) will be working together to form a program making “decent work” accessible to everyone in the country.

Maurizio Bussi, Deputy Regional Director, ILO, said that implementing the “decent work country program” will help improve and enhance fundamental labor principles and rights.

The program is being tailored to achieve the country’s objectives “which are set in a national framework and in accordance with national priorities.” It has a “flexible” timeframe and should be fully implemented in three to five years, explains Bussi.

According to a senior Ministry of Labor official, the protocol will be ready to be signed by April 2009, after the different partners in the UAE government decide on a national framework in which the program will be implemented.

The two most important issues that the UAE government has to address are making sure that the workers are protected and provided with social benefits incase they lost their jobs, as well as ensuring that the workers are given an opportunity to voice their concerns.

Making “decent work” accessible to everyone and giving workers security and more rights sounds great, but will it be implemented properly?

“The UAE labor law needs to be adequate to support the reform process, the capacity for inspection also needs to be addressed to ensure implementation,” said Bussi.

In 2006, a report entitled “Building Towers, Cheating Workers” reported serious abuses of construction workers by employers in the UAE. The abuse allegations in the 71-page report ranged from forcing workers to pay an “illegal sum to get working permits, to delayed payment of salaries, lack of safety measures in construction sites and poor living conditions in accommodation facilities.” Employers withheld their employees’ passports, which is illegal in the UAE.

In response to the report, Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai and Prime Minister of the UAE, instructed the labor minister to take “necessary action to address the issues of expatriate workers in the country. He ordered the ministry to ensure improved standards of health, safety and quality of life for expatriate workers in both their workplaces and living areas.”

Since then, however, numerous riots and reports have shown that working conditions have not improved across the board. Closer inspection of the matter is needed to make sure that labor laws are being enforced and if not, then employers should face the consequences. Perhaps with the new program, conditions may improve. It’s hard to tell.

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1 Comment

  1. Peter Peter on January 15, 2009 12:05 pm

    “Building Towers , Cheating workers” came out in 2006 and yet in 2009 we are still “discussing” about implementing some new measures that will only ” help improve and enhance fundamental labor principles and rights” and that too in a “flexibleâ€� time frame and which will take “three to five years” to implement.

    Bravo ! Every body, including the ILO , should be thrilled that the local government has shown a “firm commitment” to changing things.

    It might be worth Mr. Bussi to remember that this is not a democracy-a-la Latin America or Asia where months and years go bye before anything happens.

    In the Arab states all it takes is one statement from the Rulers and laws are enacted. Why then is there so much feet dragging on the issue of fundamental rights for foreign workers ? And why is the ILO so lenient on these governments ? Why can it not demand greater traction on fundamental issues ?

    What about minimum pay ? What about maximum hours of work per week ? What about overtime ? What about compensation for injury or death ? What about decent living conditions ? What about salaries on time ?

    Perhaps Mr. Bussi should read the charter of the ILO again and refresh his own sense of mission.

    It is an open secret that on all these counts there are rampant violations going on, particularly in the construction industry, but apparently there are no laws, or no political will to fine , jail or deport the builders for their sins. And yet poor , illiterate workers who are as it is cheated of their rights, are regularly deported in case they dare to protest. Even today Dubai Transport ( a semi government body ) does not give its drivers a single day off from work. That shows this government’s commitment to worker’s rights.

    Instead of making such cosmetic changes the powers that be need to search deep in their souls and find what ever humanity that is there to make some serious effort to strike at the root of the problem – greed among the employers , builders and promoters. Greed that makes them insensitive to the needs of the poor and the illiterate.

    Like I said , all it takes is for one of the Rulers to open their mouth and it will become law.

    It hardly seems as if the instructions of Sheikh Mohammed to the labor minister ” to take “necessary action to address the issues of expatriate workers in the country” and his order to the ministry of Labor ” to ensure improved standards of health, safety and quality of life for expatriate workers in both their workplaces and living areas.â€� have been take seriously.

    Was it then only a statement made as a PR exercise to deflect the negative feedback the “Building Towers, Cheating Workers�
    report was generating ? One hopes not.

    We know that Sheikh Mohammed has a hard task on his hands , but he is a man of vision and daring. We would like to believe that the Sheikh’s vision includes the welfare of the hundreds of thousands of expat workers who are sweating blood to help achieve his dreams for the UAE and to make this country great.

    We hope his courage will lead him to take some hard decisions that may not necessarily please the vested interests that would like to go with the status quo.


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