New rules aim to protect workers

27 April 2009 Publication: Gulf news

Dubai: The Ministry of Labour is set to introduce new rules for labour accommodation standards and a fresh mechanism to ensure payment of salaries, to protect workers' rights and improve their conditions.

Speaking to the press at the sidelines of the labour and human rights symposium, Saqr Gobash Saeed Gobash, Minister of Labour, emphasised that payment of workers' salaries and dignified living conditions are fundamental principles for the ministry of labour.

In order to safeguard those rights, the ministry will introduce a set of new measures such as the adoption for new criteria for labour accommodation and a requirement for companies to pay workers' salaries through banks.

"The new criteria will be in line with international best practices. No new labour accommodations will be built if they do not meet the new criteria and existing ones will be given a grace period to meet the standards if possible, while those that cannot meet the standards will have to go," said Gobash.

The duration of the grace period is outlined in the new rule.

However, Gobash did not reveal how long the grace period will be but said that it is not an overnight change and it will take time before all labour accommodations in the country are inline with the new criteria.

The proposal has been submitted to the cabinet and it is in the final stages of being approved, according to Gobash.

During one of the sessions at the symposium, Renaud Detalle from the UN office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, called on the UAE to take advantage of the rights organisation's special rapporteurs of labour accommodations standards.

However, Gobash said the new criteria is comprehensive and is in accordance with international best practice.

"The real challenge is not the criteria but how we can transform all labour accommodation in the country to be in line with the criteria," said Gobash. The features of the new criteria were however not disclosed.

The ministry is also working closely with the central bank to develop a new mechanism to ensure that workers are paid on time and that the ministry will be able to check if workers salaries have been deducted, according to Gobash.

"All companies will have to pay salaries through banks but we will start with the low income workers as they are the most vulnerable for exploitation," said Gobash. Currently, there about 500,000 workers who receive their salaries through banks, according to ministry statistics.

"So far we have faced problems trying to get all companies to pay salaries through banks as companies cited difficulties in finding banks which are willing to open accounts for low income workers," said Gobash adding that the situation will change with the help from central bank.

Meanwhile, a new plan for 'flexible' labour market policies to deal with the global financial crisis is to be submitted by the Ministry of Labour to the Cabinet.

Gobash said the main feature of the plan is to create flexible labour movement within the country and reduction of charges when recruiting manpower from within the country.

Bank studies claims refuted

The Minister of Labour on Monday denied that the country is witnessing a mass departure of foreign workers and that the population is falling due to the financial crisis.

Workers are merely being sent home for holidays, Labour Minister Saqr Gobash Saeed Gobash said, rejecting recent bank and consultancy studies predicting the population in Dubai will shrink by 17 per cent in the coming year.

A new plan for 'flexible' labour market policies to deal with the global financial crisis is to be submitted by the ministry of labour to the cabinet, he said.

Gobash said the main feature of the plan which will create flexible labour movement within the country is reduction of fees when recruiting from inside the country as well as making sure not to grant work permits for people abroad if there are people with the same expertise in the country. Gobash said the ministry issued 662,000 work permits in the period between October 2008 and March 2009, while only 405,000 permits have been cancelled. These figures "show an increase..." in the number of expat workers.