New UAE labour reforms to come into effect on January 1

The new laws focus on improving transparency of job terms and employment contracts, spell out how contracts can be terminated, and could make it easier for workers to switch employers.

Minister of Labour Saqr Ghobash introduced labour reforms that aim to tighten oversight of employment agreements for temporary migrant workers. Kamran Jebreili / AP

ABU DHABI // The UAE will introduce new labour reforms aimed at tightening oversight of employment agreements for the millions of temporary migrant workers who make up the bulk of the country’s workforce, the Ministry of Labour said Tuesday.

The reforms are being implemented through three decrees that will take effect on January 1, said Minister of Labour Saqr Ghobash.

They focus on improving transparency of job terms and employment contracts, spell out how contracts can be terminated, and could make it easier for workers to switch employers. Mr Ghobash said the reforms are meant to guarantee that relations between workers and employers are governed only by Government-monitored work contracts and the labour law.

“We wanted to ensure that the labour relation is entered into voluntarily and freely, and for such a relationship to continue, the voluntary nature also must continue,” Mr Ghobash said through a translator. “It takes two parties to agree to enter into a work relationship, but it needs only one party to decide to end that work relationship,” he said of the new regulations.

Under the new policies, prospective workers would be asked to sign a standard employment offer in their home country that would in turn be filed with the Ministry of Labour before a work permit is issued. That agreement would then be registered as a legal contract once the worker arrives in the country, and no changes would be allowed unless they extend additional benefits that the worker agrees to.

Contracts could be terminated by either side under terms spelled out in a ministry decree, and once that is done workers would be free to switch to a new employer.

The UAE is home to at least 4.5 million registered migrant workers, Mr Ghobash said. Many of them come from South Asia, the Philippines, other Arab countries and parts of Africa. At 2.6 million strong, Indians alone far outnumber the local population.

The Ministry of Labour has about 500 labour inspectors charged with ensuring that companies comply with existing laws, Mr Ghobash said.

Nicholas McGeehan, a Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch, said the new contracting process policy in particular is a clear step forward.

“If properly implemented, it will end contract substitution,” he said. “The main complaint from workers is about pay. Essentially they want to be paid on time what they were promised.”

* Associated Press