By Andy Sambidge and AFP
Labour Minister announces move to prevent future salary disputes.
The UAE government has announced the creation of an agency to protect the salaries and well-being of foreign labourers.
Labour Minister Saqr Ghubash said it will be tasked with establishing a system for monitoring salaries and work hours and for the implementation of a salary transfer system through banks and other financial institutions.
The office will also establish a communication network with companies to encourage them to pay salaries on time and to receive any complaints about non-payment of salaries, news agency WAM reported.
"The office will suggest mechanism for penalties on defaulting companies. It will also contribute in the dispute-settlement efforts arising from non-payment," he said.
The office's main objective will be to avoid any future salary-related problems, he added.
It will have an autonomous organisation structure that will enable it perform its tasks with diligence and efficiency.
He said: "The government and the Ministry (of Labour) are particularly concerned with safeguarding the UAE's image in international arenas."
Ghobash said that more than 400,000 workers currently receive their salaries through exchange companies.
"The local exchange companies have shown a great interest in ending the workers salaries problems and in investing in the salary-transfer infrastructure and technology to serve over 1.9 million foreign workers in the UAE," he added.
While Ghobash acknowledged that most of the public sector institutions paid their workers salaries on time, he also highlighted that some companies did not.
"We trust that the private sector understands the importance of this matter and I am confident we will reasch suitable solutions."
He added that consultations would take place with employers over the low level of wages, which is particularly noticeable in the massive construction sector.
The oil-rich and booming United Arab Emirates had a population of some 5.6 million people at the end of 2006, of which some 84 percent were foreigners and many of whom were low-paid workers from South Asia and Southeast Asia.
Asian workers have demonstrated several times in the past year to demand higher wages and better living conditions despite a ban on public protests in the UAE.
Many construction workers earn less than $200 a month.
The introduction of an agency is the tip of the iceberg. When there is dispute which cannot be resolved there needs to be a fast track through the court system with a maximum time limit of 3 months set to reach judgement. Currently, once a dispute reaches the courts the final judgement can take more than 12 months to resolve, with employers deferring judgement by continually failing to supply documentation to the courts. How can people who are locked in the court system survive, when they are unable to work until the dispute is solved? The MOL currently can supply a temporary work permit but it is only valid for 6 months, non-renewable - when cases go beyond this time the person is left destitute, through no fault of their own. All workers must have the right to receive wages, overtime and benefits as stipulated in their agreements on time without the added stress of complicated, expensive, long, drawn out judicial procedures to receive their dues.