Abu Dhabi's new one day labour court looks to put an end to wage disputes

From ensuring employees are paid on time to preventing others making false claims, judges are looking to ensure justice is swift and fair

Men work constructing a scaffolding, silhouetted against the setting sun, at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Center in Abu Dhabi, on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013. (Silvia Razgova / The National)

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A new one day labour court aims to provide swift justice and put an end to lengthy disputes over pay and working conditions.

The Abu Dhabi judicial body has dealt with 27 cases since it was launched in October 1 and its main legal advisor has urged the victims of labour abuses not to suffer in silence.

Benjimin Burgher has overseen the setting up of the legal body, which deals with cases that involves disputes and claims amounting to less than Dh20,000 and require no major investigation.

The intention is to find swift resolutions, particularly to clear cut cases in which employees haven't been paid, or where a member of staff has made a false legal or financial claim against their bosses.

Based at the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation, the court has already resolved or dismissed half of the cases it has seen. Others have been sent to the upper courts for further investigation.


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“We know that there are a number of really vulnerable workers who are not well paid and we were looking for more effective ways in dealing with labour court disputes,” said Benjimin Burgher, a British barrister, former judge and legal consultant to the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department.

One of the main issues in pay disputes is the length of time that passes during which claimants have no money to live off.

Workers often have to go through a lengthy court process, and their unpaid wages would add up, leaving them desperate.

“So the question was how such cases can be best resolved? If they are straight forward and clear, they should have been paid but employers are procrastinating.”

But he said there are cases in which an employee gets a new job and claims they are owed more money than they are in wages or end of service payments, also known as gratuity.

Benjamin Burgher, Legal Consultant, Abu Dhabi Judicial Department. Vidhyaa for The National

“So it is balancing both sides,” Mr Burgher said.

The intention is that a claimant is initially considered for the one day court.

In the old system, the case had to go through registration, case management, and a judge.

“We are taking out case management and registration, it is straight forward, we receive an email from the ministry to say ‘this is the case we think it is straight forward, it gets automatically registered within one-day court.”

The long-established wage protection system, set up in 2009, allows the authorities to examine whether or not a company has paid its workers.

“If the wage protection system says they have not paid, it means that either the employee is not working, or employers are not paying; so it's very simple and it is not really difficult judicial consideration," said Mr Burgher.

"It is still necessary to have a judge decide, but easy and does not necessarily take seven months to decide.

"If someone says they have been bullied, mistreated and abused, that is a lot of facts, so it still goes to normal courts.”

And most importantly, the one-day court found a way to speed up procedures, despite some employers’ efforts to procrastinate court rulings by failing to show up to the hearings.

The ministry’s legal researchers have been authorised through a special decree.

Even if the other party fails to show up, and there is proof that they have been notified, the judge can make a definite final decision in their absence.

A verdict issued by the one-day court is final and not subject to appeal, so there is no room for any party to try and drag up the case for months.

"By the time it is over “the poor worker would not have been paid a penny for a year and a half," he said.

“So we are trying to remove those abuses, to increase the reputation of Abu Dhabi and the UAE in these disputes."


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For companies in particular, the message is simple.

“So no more employers thinking of abuses... thinking all they need to do is not showing up will drag it out etc. If they don’t show up after 14 days and they were properly notified, the judge deals with it.”

The government is in the process of setting up centres named Tasheel, to deal specially with labour issues.

“Even for people who are illiterate and cannot read, they can go to Tasheel, they are new centers that were set up by the ministry precisely to advise. There they can speak to a legal advisor, and ask pretty straight forward questions.

“If people knew their rights they will say this is what we taught should be happening and this is what happened, why?”

“At the moment if they don’t know anything they don’t think the judge has access to do anything.

“There is a process, you can come to court and get your passport back, there is a lot of good law here to prevent the previous abuses.

“There is a real drive and determination to change."