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Fri 6 Nov 2015 01:26 AM

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Rights group hails UAE's plan to change labour laws in 2016

Human Rights Watch says proposal to further protect migrant workers is 'another step in the right direction'

Rights group hails UAE's plan to change labour laws in 2016
(Image for illustrative purpose only - Getty Images)

An international human rights group has applauded moves by the UAE to protect low-paid migrant workers by bringing in new labour laws early next year.

Human Rights Watch said the UAE decree is the first measure of its kind in Gulf region, but added it lacks details on implementation and enforcement and does not apply to domestic workers.

The move aims to help migrant workers, many of whom have previously said that when they arrive in the GCC, they are forced to sign contracts that pay less than promised in contracts they signed before they left their own countries to take the jobs.

This contract substitution can make workers vulnerable to forced labour, especially if workers have taken on debts to pay recruitment fees.

“A major complaint of migrant workers in the UAE is usually that they’re not being paid what they were promised, so UAE authorities deserve credit if this law ends contract substitution,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director.

“Its success will depend on whether workers will have access to complaint mechanisms when employers don’t abide by the new regulations.”

Under the new legislation, employers must use Labour Ministry standard employment contracts, and workers can only be registered for employment after signing such a contract, which “captures exactly the terms of the employment offer".

A standard employment contract in the UAE contains information on pay, date and duration of the contract, and the nature of the work to be performed.

Implementation and enforcement will be central to the new law’s effectiveness, Human Rights Watch said.

The rights group said workers should be able to retain copies of the standard employment contract they sign in their countries of origin, contracts should be written in a language they understand, and they should be able to access a grievance mechanism in the UAE that can resolve complaints quickly and penalise offenders.

Labour Ministry decrees number 765 and 766, outlining the rules for terminating employment and granting work permits to new employees, will also take effect in January.

Human Rights Group added that the ministerial decision does not provide a comprehensive list of the “legal or consensual” obligations that give an employee the right to change employer, but it provides one example – non-payment of wages for sixty days.

“These changes are another step in the right direction, but domestic workers should not be left behind,” Stork said. “Many domestic workers face forced labor and other extreme abuse, and the UAE should give them the same rights and protections as other workers.”