Facebook page offers legal advice to expats

Site guides workers through labour and visa-related issues.
Gopa Kumar started a service via Facebook to help low-income expat workers with visa and legal issues. Satish Kumar / The National
Gopa Kumar started a service via Facebook to help low-income expat workers with visa and legal issues. Satish Kumar / The National

ABU DHABI // The rights of expatriate workers are safeguarded by the UAE’s labour laws, but most people are unaware of the level of protection to which they are entitled.

As a result, many fall victim to unscrupulous companies and individuals who exploit their lack of knowledge, according to an advocate for workers rights.

Gopa Kumar, who runs a Facebook page to help low-income workers with employment and visa-related issues, said many people were largely ignorant about the country’s rules and regulations, which could cause them problems.

His page, UAE Labour Law Clarifications, receives up to 300 membership requests a day from people of all nationalities, although domestic workers from the Philippines make up about half of all queries.

“Domestic helpers mostly write about contract and visa-related issues, they have no idea about the contract clauses. They work about 12 hours a day with no holidays,” said the 58-year-old Indian. “In most cases, small private companies are exploiting their workers, especially when they want to move ahead with a better opportunity.”

Mr Kumar said there was reluctance among expats when it came to approaching labour and prosecution officials, despite the relative ease with which their queries were answered. “There is an overall impression that the legal process is very complicated and expensive here. In fact it is the other way round.

“Courts in the UAE are very helpful and one can fight for his/her case without hiring expensive lawyers.”

The courts have interpreters and translators that help workers to understand and participate in the proceedings, with most labour court cases taking no more than two weeks to reach a decision, while prosecutions can take up to six months in passing judgment.

“The UAE’s judicial system is very efficient and supportive,” he said.

Mr Kumar, who comes from Kerala and has been living in the UAE for 30 years, set up the page after running into visa issues with a previous employer.

“I decided to approach the labour court but the whole process was so troublesome just because I had no information and there was nobody and no platform to guide me. I hired a lawyer but he also misguided me. A lot of time and money was wasted in this process,” said Mr Kumar, who currently works as an installation manager at a fire safety company.

“I decided to start a Facebook page to help people on the basis of my knowledge and experience,” he said. “I chose Facebook because it is the most popular social media site and almost everyone here owns a smartphone and can be connected easily.”

As well as being able to advise people on the processes involved in labour disputes, visitors to the page can also get legal advice.

“I realised Mr Kumar is not a legal expert and whatever he is sharing is based on his experience and knowledge,” said Yamni Rajesh, a legal consultant based in Dubai.

“I felt that if I added my legal expertise to the group, it would become more comprehensive. I felt that we should support each other and help the people as much as possible,”

Ms Rajesh agreed that most of the problems facing workers and employers are due to ignorance about how labour law works. “We need to educate people as much as possible so that they know where they stand legally before joining any company in the country,” she said.


Published: December 14, 2014 04:00 AM


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