Ministry of Labour targets late wages

Workers are urged to report companies that withhold salaries in order to solve disputes and stem the illegal labour market.

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DUBAI // Workers are being urged to report companies that withhold salaries as soon as possible in order to solve disputes and prevent them drifting into the illegal labour market. Under UAE law employees can prosecute a company if they have not been paid for two months.

But in the current financial climate the Ministry of Labour has said it will involve itself earlier and must be told immediately if a company has failed to pay. In addition to wanting workers to get money they are owed, ministry officials are anxious to avoid seeing a pool of workers stranded in the UAE forced through necessity to work illegally should a company reduce its staff. "Financial crisis or not, companies should pay staff's salaries on time. Those who have not been paid should report their employers to the Ministry of Labour," said Saleh Ahad Saleh, the director of the labour office at the Ministry of Labour.

In an effort to control the illegal labour market, the ministry is also considering allowing those waiting more than two months for their wages to move to new jobs without being released by their current employer. An adviser to Saqr Ghobash, the Minister of Labour, said: "The ministry will step in if companies fail to pay their employees. We are here to protect the rights of expatriate workers in the UAE as it's our responsibility. What we want to make sure is that all payments, as agreed in contract, should be paid on time and the ministry is aggressively pursuing these objectives.

"If people haven't been paid in over two months then staff can move on to other companies without having to obtain a No Objection Certificate (NOC), and pay for visa amendments. Fines would be levied against the company," he said. "We are reviewing speculation that there will be a black market of labourers, but we are sure it won't happen as we have the mechanisms in place to avoid such scenarios."

"We recognise the protection of foreign nationals as a rule of law and the enforcement of the law is the mandate of the ministry." He added that bailing out companies was not the responsibility of the ministry. One international company did not pay the salaries of 150 employees for 10 weeks as it looked at securing the necessary funds to pay them. Hit hard by the international global crisis, the financial director of the company told The National that it had to reduce its operations in other parts of the world in order to free the money needed to pay its UAE workers.

He confirmed staff had been waiting for 10 weeks for their money. The Ministry of Labour did not intervene on this occasion. So far this year there has been a record increase in court cases against employers who withhold salaries and refuse to issue the NOCs that enable people to change jobs. The number of cases filed with the Dubai Courts Labour Cases Section in the first half of this year has increased 111.7 per cent compared with the same period last year.

Yesterday Mr Ghobash inaugurated the Third Human Assets Expansion Congress Mid-East in Dubai, which is being attended by 150 human resources professionals. The two-day conference will discuss the latest challenges in the employment sector. Over the past three years the UAE had seen an exceptional growth in the labour market, with an extra on million workers hired. "Today we are at the threshold of a new era in the administration of our labour market, which requires a critical diagnosing of the challenges facing the market," the minister was quoted as saying by the state news agency, WAM.

"The situation also demands an objective understanding of the root of the problems, adoption of appropriate strategies to develop human resources and to give the issue the priority it deserves in the nation's comprehensive socio-economic development programme." Last night the Cabinet endorsed a new human resources draft Bill, the Minister of Health, Humaid al Qattami said. The draft Bill contains clauses stipulating the replacement of the Civil Services Commission with a Human Resources Authority, which will evolve and support the administrative system and human resources development in the federal Government.

He said some of the labour challenges included the need to provide jobs for Emiratis below the age of 30. More than 38 per cent of the national population is below the age of 15, while the rate of women venturing into the labour market is on the increase. There was an expectation that the national labour force would double by 2020, to reach about half a million compared to the current 250,000, he said.

"This means our national economy must provide more job opportunities in the next 11 years than it created in the past four decades," he said, calling for collaboration between the private and the government sectors to overcome these challenges.