New labour contract rules praised

Countries that export labour to the UAE say ensuring their workers understand their contracts – and aren't forced to sign new ones once arriving – is key.

October 7, 2010, Abu Dhabi, UAE:

The deputy regional director of the ILO gave details of a new program it is working on with the UAE, which aims to improve the rights of workers. It will include legislation covering the operation of recruitment agencies in the country. A seven member team from the organization has been in the country for the past week to finalize the strategy with the Ministry of Labour.

A labourer at a construction site off of Defence road. 

Lee Hoagland / The National
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ABU DHABI // Officials of two countries that had called for a unified employment contract for labourers sent here say the new rules announced by the UAE Ministry of Labour will help end contract substitution and other harmful labour practices.

Under the new regulations, workers can read their original labour contract, which will be accredited in the UAE, before they are recruited. They will not be allowed to sign until it is ensured that they understand the contract.

Saqr Ghobash, the Minister of Labour, said on Saturday that the new decision was part of an effort to boost transparency and workers’ rights.

Hannan Hadi, the head of the consular section at the Indonesian embassy, said workers from that country would now have a chance to fully understand their rights and obligations before moving overseas.

“Most workers usually do not have a choice but sign the contract when they arrive here,” he said. “With the new rules, the workers now have the right to decline if the terms and conditions are unfavourable, before they are deployed to the UAE.”

Mr Hadi said he hoped the UAE Government would adopt a standardised contract under UAE labour laws.

"More often than not, the company prepares the contracts with whatever terms and conditions they like,” he said.

Although officials in Indonesia are involved in preparing original contracts, “the contract prepared and signed in the UAE is the one being honoured”, he said.

“We hope the new regulations will eventually lead to the adoption of a uniform contract for expatriate workers,” said Nasser Munder, the Filipino labour attache in Abu Dhabi. “We’ve encountered many cases of workers being asked to sign a much inferior contract than what was promised or agreed upon by both parties.”

In September, Mr Munder joined embassy officials from Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, India and Bangladesh at a lunch hosted by the US embassy. Most officials said the overriding concern was contract substitution; at the last minute, migrant workers are offered second, inferior work contracts they feel they must sign.

In a report issued on June 3, 2010, the Migration Policy Institute, an independent agency in Washington, DC, that studies global migration issues, said contract fraud, which includes contract substitution and the deployment of workers to different jobs upon arrival than they were promised, happens frequently.

“There is no official data indicating whether the degree of contract fraud varies by skill level,” the report said. “However, perception exists among some government officials, industry insiders, and migrants interviewed for this report that it happens more often to low-skilled and unskilled workers.”

Mr Munder, who will attend a two-day workshop in Dubai hosted by the labour ministry on Tuesday, said it would be an opportunity to clarify some issues about the new rules.


e will be joined by Amilbahar Amilasan, the labour attache in Dubai; Stella Banawis, the deputy administrator of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), two POEA directors, and two representatives from the private sector in Manila.

Representatives from labour-sending countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, the International Labour Organisation, and International Organisation for Migration, are expected to attend as well.

“We’d like to know what sanctions will be in place for erring recruitment agencies,” Mr Munder said. “We’d like to see administrative and criminal sanctions against these agencies and companies that engage in labour malpractices.”

Recruitment agencies, under the new regulations, must ensure that workers do not pay any fees, either in the UAE or abroad.

“We’re also interested to know if the labour ministry also has plans to regulate the activities of company public relations officers and introduce some sanctions to discipline them,” he added.

In recent weeks, his office received complaints from waitresses against their company’s public relations officers. At the end of their contract, their visas were cancelled and they were forced to return home.

“After waiting for up to three weeks, the [public relations officer] advised them to get their passports at the immigration,” Mr Munder said. “The company filed an absconding case against them when clearly, they did not violate any labour and residency laws. And they were still staying at their company accommodation.”

Mr Hadi said the Indonesian embassy would like to verify the role the embassies of labour-sending countries have under the new regulations.