The UAE provides an attractive environment for foreign workers of 200 different nationalities, adopting comprehensive strategies to protect their rights and improve both their working and living conditions.
In this context, and as part of its commitment to improve the standards of workers' accommodation in line with international standards, the UAE has approved the Manual of the General Criteria for Workers' Accommodation.
Accommodation for workers
The decision emphasises employers' responsibilities to provide workers with accommodation commensurate with international labour standards.
Each facility operating in the country has to upgrade its workers' accommodation conditions to comply with these standards.
In implementation of this decision, Abu Dhabi has invested about Dh20bn ($5.4bn) in 23 workers "cities" which are capable of providing accommodation for 385,000 workers.
These complexes have been built in line with the new manual which stipulates that all accommodation must include its own medical clinic equipped with full services, parking, yards, walkways, mini-market, green spaces and playgrounds.
Freedom of movement in labour market
Other innovations in the efforts to protect workers' rights are aimed at introducing greater flexibility and freedom of movement in the labour market, and establishing a balanced contractual relationship between employer and worker.
At the same time, access to effective legal remedies in the event of a labour dispute have been vastly improved. In particular, the Ministry of Labour (MoL) has set up a collective labour disputes committee, with representatives of workers and employers in each labour office.
The committees must issue a decision on a dispute within two weeks of referral. Their decisions can be challenged before an appeal court within 30 days of issuance.
According to the UAE Minister of Labour, Saqr Ghobash of more than four million people employed in the private sector, only 20,000 are Emirati, and 65 per cent of those work in banking.
The mandatory midday break for labourers who work in the sun during the summer months began on 15th June, 2013, for the ninth consecutive year. The three-month midday break rule will be strictly enforced until 15th September, 2013.
Companies will have to give a two-and-a-half hour break from 12.30pm to 3pm for all labourers who work in the open air, such as on construction sites.
The Ministerial decision also states that daily working hours must not exceed eight hours per day or night shift, and that overtime should be paid to those working additional hoursin a 24-hour period, as per Federal Law No. 08 of 1980.
Ministry inspectors hold workshops before and during the ban period to create awareness of the rules, and also make regular visits to ensure compliance by both the employers and workers.
The Ministry of Labour orders all employers to put up signs in Arabic and other languages about the banned hours, while in the case of daily exemptions (see below), employers must ensure there is enough cold water for all workers.
Work which has to continue non-stop for technical reasons is exempt from the ban, but employers are still required to provide facilities to cater for the health and safety of workers; including access to first aid supplies and cold water.
Companies which violate the midday summer break will face penalties which include having the classification of their firms downgraded by the Ministry, and a fine of Dh15,000 for each violation.
Wage Protection System
In yet another significant stride in this regard, the MoL has launched the Wages Protection System (WPS) to safeguard payment of workers' wages via transfers through selected financial institutions. These transfers will be regulated by the government.
Furthermore, foreign workers are guaranteed the right to send their savings to their home nation and in 2012, approximately Dh70.46 billion was remitted overseas for the benefit of workers’ families.
The UAE MoL has introduced a comprehensive range of protection measures covering both pre- and post-departure needs of workers, beginning in their country of origin (for instance, protecting workers from illegal recruiters and setting up a contract validation system), continuing after their arrival in the country (through measures like curbing abuse and non-payment of wages), and on their return and re-integration to their home country.
The UAE Labour Minister, Saqr Ghobash, has discussed a number of issues related to the regulation of the labour market in the UAE in separate meetings with Brent Wilton, Deputy Secretary-General, International Organisation of Employers, and William Lacy Swing, Director-General of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
Discussions covered the measures applied by the Ministry in terms of controlling and regulating the work of private employment agencies in order to minimise any negative practices that might be carried out by them.
‘Abu Dhabi Dialogue’
The officials hailed the role played by the UAE and its initiatives to improve the management of temporary contractual work cycles, particularly the ‘Abu Dhabi Dialogue’ initiative and the subsequent meetings of the countries which are sending and receiving labourers.
The second Ministerial Consultations of ‘Abu Dhabi Dialogue 2" was held in Manila from 17th to 19th April, 2012.
Representatives from 20 countries took part in the meeting, six of them being the labour-receiving countries of UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait, in addition to eleven labour-sending countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam, as well as representatives from Malaysia, Singapore and Korea as observers.
The meeting concluded with the Manila Communique, which adopted the Framework of Regional Collaboration, 2012 for the Abu Dhabi Dialogue, and supported its guidelines for voluntary initiatives, and increased collaboration and partnerships to ensure the welfare and protection of contract workers.
The closing session of the meeting included a brief presentation on the latest electronic ratification system on labour contracts which aims to protect labour rights in the UAE.
Labour Mobility-Enabler for Sustainable Development
The UAE hosted an international conference on ‘Labour Mobility-Enabler for Sustainable Development’ in May, 2013.
The conference was organised by the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the ECSSR and the National Qualifications Authority, in partnership with the Executive Office of the Council of Ministers of Labour in the GCC, the Government of Sweden which holds the chairmanship of the Global Forum on Migration and Development, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the World Bank.
The UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Migration and Development also participated at the conference.
The conference, held under the patronage of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs, saw 150 experts, government officials and international researchers and executives discussing the subject of cross-border movement of labour and its impact on development.
In his speech at the conference, which was read out by Saqr Ghobash, the Minister of Labour, Sheikh Mansour said, "The UAE and GCC states are concerned over contributions to international efforts to upgrade the relationship between immigration and development, as well as investing knowledge in the development policies which are related to the movement of workforce across borders on national levels, and within the framework of regional and international cooperation."
"The GCC hosts more than 15 million expatriate labourers, who are contributing to the development of our national economies.
“The workers are also benefiting from the available job opportunities in upgrading their qualifications, increasing their incomes, and improving their standard of living.
"In this regard, we should point out that our country, despite the repercussions of the global economic crisis, has created almost one million job opportunities for expatriates in the past four years. This has contributed to alleviating unemployment at the regional level."
He noted that, "The GCC is the third biggest regional organisation in terms of financial remittances by expatriates, estimated to be around $80 billion in 2012, in which the UAE share constituted 24 per cent."
The UAE won membership of the Board of Directors of the Arab Labour Organisation (ALO) after earning the confidence of delegates to the 39th Arab Labour Conference, held in Cairo in April 2012. The UAE has also gained membership of the Financial Control Authority of the ALO.
In 2012 and 2013, the UAE pushed much harder for Emiratisation. President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan launched the ‘Absher’ initiative in November 2012, to promote the participation by Emiratis in the job market.
Meanwhile, His Highness Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has labelled 2013 as Emiratisation Year.
The ‘Absher’ initiative is a unique and valuable enterprise that serves the interests of the nation’s youth and provides them with means of stability and a dignified life.
Later, the MoL announced the registration of 2,200 Emiratis working in the private sector for its discounts and special offers programme, a part of the Absher initiative. Absher cards have been distributed, allowing them access to services provided by 23 governmental and private bodies.
In January 2012, Saqr Ghobash, launched phase 1 of the Labour Market Data System (LMDS) in the country.
The launch of Phase 1 also saw the signing of Memoranda of Understanding with the Federal Council for Demographic Structure, the National Centre for Statistics, the National Human Resources Recruitment and Development Authority (Tanmia), the Abu Dhabi Employment Council (Tawteen), the Abu Dhabi Statistics Centre and the Pension Fund of Abu Dhabi.
The ministry also announced that private sector companies participating in the programme will be offered advantages, such as giving them priority for the completion of forms in services provided by the Ministry in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and other emirates.