ABU DHABI // More than 1,000 cases of employers accused of breaking labour laws by ill-treating their workers were referred to prosecutors in the past year, a new report reveals.
The prosecutions came amid a massive enforcement campaign by the Ministry of Labour, whose staff conducted 138,801 general inspections, 11,807 visits to workers’ accommodation and 80,571 visits to construction sites to ensure labourers were not working during the peak hours of summer heat, which is illegal.
Labour laws have been reformed to address issues such as withholding of travel documents and non-payment of wages, according to the report by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, published on Wednesday by Wam, the state news agency.
Many of the challenges related to implementing labour rights involve blue-collar workers in construction, the report says.
“The UAE considers it a priority to work on an ongoing basis to improve their conditions,” the ministry says.
Recent measures have included the adoption of international conventions, enforcement including fines, strict accommodation rules, enforcement of prompt salary payments, international cooperation, recruitment protection and complaints mechanisms, the report says.
The report also points out that remittances from the UAE contribute significantly to other countries’ economies. Workers sent home about US$20 billion, nearly Dh75bn, in 2012, mainly to India, Pakistan, Egypt, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
The UAE is the world’s sixth largest source of remittances.
By law, since 2009 authorities can issue licences for workers’ accommodation only if it meets government standards. Owners must have upgraded their facilities by this year.
“The Ministry of Labour does not process group labour permits unless there is a clear commitment (eg plans and resources) to provide adequate housing,” the report says.
A wage protection system introduced in 2009 is used to ensure timely payment of salaries. About 258,000 workplaces paid almost 3.3 million workers their wages through this system by the end of last year.
Abu Dhabi requires companies to provide health insurance for their workers. Dubai is implementing a similar requirement in phases until 2016.
Sponsors, not the Government, are to blame when workers are mistreated, said Dr Khaliq Raza, an Indian doctor who works with labourers in Al Quz Industrial Area 4.
Another problem is that labourers are not educated and do not know about the rights granted to them by law, he said, and labourers often win court cases.
“For that reason, they do not know it is written in their contract,” he said.
Other sponsors do not give workers copies of their contracts and if they do, they do not ensure the workers understand their rights.
Sponsors “should be taught that they should take care of the labourers as human beings like them”, said Dr Raza.
The UAE has made significant progress in enforcing workers’ rights, the Emirates Human Rights Association said on Wednesday.
Jamila Al Hamli, the association’s secretary general, said it had received fewer than 25 labour complaints this year, most of which were related to wrongful termination and malicious behaviour and were resolved quickly.
Wednesday’s ministry report follows an article in The New York Times this month alleging ill treatment of labourers at the New York University Abu Dhabi site on Saadiyat Island, including unpaid wages and poor living conditions.
Tamkeen, the organisation that monitors the NYU Abu Dhabi site, has said it takes allegations of offences by contractors “with the utmost seriousness”.
“The safety and welfare of those who built and operate the NYU Abu Dhabi campus is of paramount importance,” Tamkeen said.
“In the four years of construction of the NYU Abu Dhabi campus, the groundbreaking labour standards compliance monitoring regime has been vigorously applied. As a result any and all identified violations have been successfully and appropriately rectified.”
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(via The National)