The UAE and other labour-receiving countries have a major role to play in protecting workers from exploitation and illegal recruitment practices, the Minister of Labour said on Tuesday.
But countries that supply labour bear most of the responsibility for ensuring their citizens remain safe from unscrupulous agencies.
“The cycle begins with the recruitment and processing of workers in the country of origin and we all agree that there are serious challenges on that front,” said Dr Ali bin Abdullah Al Kaabi.
“Governments of labour-sending countries bear the main responsibility for protecting prospective workers against illegal recruitment practices. But it is also true that we, the receiving countries, have a stake in combating such illegal practices because they jeopardise the entire employment cycle.”
Al Kaabi was speaking at the conclusion of the Abu Dhabi Dialogue – a ministerial-level conference on contract labour held in the Emirates Palace hotel.
He said the ministry was working closely with countries in the Colombo Process – a consultative group that deals with contract labour from Asia – to modernise recruitment. This is being achieved in ways that reduce the risks of exploitative practices and streamline the processing of applications.
“We are also working with Colombo Process governments and the International Organisation for Migration [IOM] to strengthen induction programmes designed to help prospective workers understand their rights and responsibilities once they arrive in the UAE, are fully informed about the terms of their contracts and are able to make an informed decision about accepting an employment offer,” he said.
Al Kaabi said the UAE had introduced mission contracts and mission entry visas that allow prospective workers to enter the country and engage in short-term employment before signing a longer term deal. “It is when a worker arrives in a receiving country that responsibility is transferred to the host government to extend protection to the parties of the temporary employment contract. Workers must be afforded the security that they will receive the benefits that they are entitled to under the terms of the contract and the provisions of the labour laws. We take pride in the many protective measures that are now embodied in our laws, regulatory and administrative guidelines.”
Al Kaabi called for a holistic approach to administering contract labour mobility and examining opportunities and challenges, advancing creative and effective solutions to problems and agreeing to assign clear responsibilities at each phase of the employment cycle.
“The holding of this consultation in our capital caps a two-year effort by the UAE Ministry of Labour and the IOM to create a platform for a sustained dialogue between Asian countries of origin and destination to explore strategies for a more effective and equitable administration of contractual labour mobility, which spurs development. Over the past two years we have moved to improve labour conditions in a number of areas including housing, health benefits and the protection of wages.
“We introduced health protection measures, including mandatory work stoppage during the mid-day hours in the summer months for construction workers. Employers must, by law, extend health insurance protection to contractual workers. We have taken aggressive action to protect wages by mandating that these be direct-deposited into bank accounts, by imposing heavy fines for non-payment of wages and by granting a release from employer sponsorship to any worker who is owed back pays for more than two months.
“The value of remittances from the UAE peaked at more than $20 billion last year. Wage-related disputes are now expeditiously resolved in Dubai’s Labour Court. But we are also committed to strict enforcement of the law when it comes to persons who are in our country illegally or those who violate the law,” he said.
Masri Hasiar, Director-General of the Indonesian Manpower and Immigration Ministry, said the dialogue had produced very positive results. He said domestic workers accounted for more than 70 per cent of the total Indonesian labour force in the GCC, which led to many problems. The Indonesian authorities intended to limit the number of domestic workers and find a balance between them and those who worked for firms.
He pointed out that the seizure of workers’ identity documents by sponsors in the GCC countries was an issue that concerned the Indonesian authorities
Dr Ng Eng Hen, Indonesia’s Minister of Manpower, said the meeting was a step in the right direction to distribute responsibilities among manpower-receiving and supplying countries. He said there were thousands of Indonesian workers in the UAE and he had not received complaints from them.
Dr Keheliya Rambukwella, Sri Lanka’s Minister of Emigrant Manpower, said: “The world is full of problems related to expatriate manpower and there is no labour-receiving country free from such problems. However the results of this meeting are very important.”
IOM Director-General Brunson McKinley said: “It was really very hard to unify the points of views of more than 20 completely different countries – poor and rich, small and big. However, the Abu Dhabi Dialogue was successful.”
Key recommendations and findings of the Abu Dhabi Dialogue include recognising the joint responsibility of countries of origin and destination “to enforce compliance by recruitment agencies and other parties engaged in the recruitment process with the requirements of national laws and regulations pertaining to the employment of temporary contractual labour, thus providing further protection to workers”.
To achieve this, partnerships will be formed to: enhance knowledge of labour market trends, skills profiles, temporary contractual workers and remittances policies and flows and their interplay with development in the region; to build capacity for effective matching of labour demand and supply; to prevent illegal recruitment practices and promoting welfare and protection measures for contractual workers.
UAE protects expat staff