Companies have been warned the government will not stand for breaches of employment law, as Abu Dhabi rolled out a new dispute resolution court to handle mounting labour cases.
Judicial officials said withholding passports and failing to pay wages on time continue to be among the most common labour cases, though workers have become more confident about fighting for their rights.
Officials said most businesses adhere to the law but ‘whenever you have a system there will be people who try to abuse it’.
The Summary Cases Court located above Twa-Fouq centre in the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation will compliment the One Day Labour Court, which handled 770 cases from its launch in October 2017 until the end of last year, and aims to settle clear-cut cases within hours.
“The shorter the process is in the system, the quicker the law will get enforced,” said Benjimin Burgher, a legal adviser at the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department (Adjd).
Traditionally, employers would be slow paying what they owe to employees, knowing that a judgment could take many months, said Mr Burgher.
“The employer would think 'I can continue to work and wait for a year before the judgment is issued and I will hold on to the money for as long as I can'.”
However, when a case gets resolved instantly, and the employer is aware they could go to prison if they does not pay on time, he will resolve the issue immediately.
“Whenever you have a system there will be clever people who try to abuse it, what you can do is make it as difficult as possible for them to do so.”
The Summary Cases Court mainly handles straightforward cases such as an employer withholding an employee’s passport, or a company failing to issue or renew health insurance cards for employees.
The employee would first go to the Twa-Fouq centre, which is managed by the Ministry of Human Resources and Labour, to present their complaint.
The centre tries to reach an agreement between the employee and employer without the need for court action.
Twa-Fouq receives 55 to 70 cases every day, most of which are resolved at the centre, said Ahmad Al Yassi, director of the labour relations department at the ministry.
If the reconciliation attempts fail, the applicant goes upstairs to the Summary Cases Court. The number of cases that get referred to court does not exceed 16 a day, he said.
Once the applicant is at the Summary Cases Court, they immediately sit with a case manager, a court clerk and a data entry employee to register their case, before going to the judge’s office for the case to be heard, and a verdict can be issued immediately if it is felt no further legal argument is required.
If the case proves more complicated, it is referred to the One Day Labour Court, which has been moved to the room right next to the judges’ offices.
The accused in the case is notified on the same day by telephone and email to present themselves in court that day.
If they are unable to attend or do not show up, they are given a seven-day grace period to show up and provide their defence before a verdict is issued in their absence.
The ruling is then issued by the concerned authority, whether it is the labour ministry, police or the court of execution.
Summary cases also include disputes over accommodation provision, such as when accommodation is provided by a company and the employer suddenly informs the employee that he has to leave the property the next day, without giving them 30-days’ notice.
“So they can come here and file a complaint, then the police will go to the accommodation with the court order and move the employee back in,” said Mr Al Yassi.
“The new court will save time and costs. Everything is in the same building, and the person does not even need to carry any file or document with him.”
Once the applicant registers at Twa-Fouq, an electronic file is created for his case that is automatically linked to the court system.
“Previously, a person filing a lawsuit had to go through a typing centre and get lawyer to draft the claim statement and pay fees for that, but now this is unnecessary.”