People with disabilities struggle to find jobs in UAE, parents say

Despite strict anti-discrimination laws in the UAE, lawyers say it is difficult to prove if a job candidate has been rejected for their disability

 Emirati para-karateka Salem Al Mehairi trains with his coach Marcelo Ayala.
(Photo: Reem Mohammed/The National)

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Families of people with disabilities are calling for stricter enforcement of Dubai's equality law as they say their loved ones struggle to find employment.

In 2018, a resolution that ensured equal rights for people with disabilities, particularly in the labour market, was passed. This included discrimination during the recruitment process.

However, lawyers in the UAE have said proving discrimination can be difficult due to lack of evidence.

Dubai resident Deepti Kaimal has a 23-year-old son who is on the autism spectrum and has attention deficient hyperactivity disorder. She said he applied to more than 20 jobs in the past year but never receives a response.

“My son is very capable of being in the workforce. He graduated from a mainstream school,” Ms Kaimal said.

Discrimination cases during the hiring process, whether brought by people of determination or more generally, are difficult to prove in the UAE

“He knows his issues and wants to be accepted by others. He’s very ambitious. He collects loads of information from the internet and newspapers and often leaves us amazed by his vast knowledge on various topics.”

Ms Kaimal was able to secure him a temporary unpaid job at a friend’s car workshop after he completed an automobile engineering course.

“Companies don’t see the potential he has and don’t want to offer a full-time position just because he is a little different,” she said. “We as parents are very worried about his future and don’t know how he will survive after we are gone. There needs to be tighter regulations in the private sector to encourage more hiring of people of determination.”

Maryna van der Merwe lives in Dubai with her son, who has cerebral palsy. She said the law needs to include provisions that allow people with disabilities to bring caretakers with them to work.

“Legislation [for equal work opportunities] has passed but is it monitored?” she asked. “Most of our children need a shadow and Salem can’t really function independently. There are still gaps in the legislation, especially for ones who need caretakers, and businesses need to be guided.

“Parents should also understand their children’s strengths. Salem is now a para karate champion. He has performed all over the world.”

Ali Al Assaad, senior associate at the DWF law firm, said there are no provisions under the UAE’s Anti-Discrimination Law that mention people with disabilities. The recent equality resolution also does not include penalties for offenders.

However, the UAE Labour Law says that employers can be jailed for up to three years and fined at least Dh10,000 under the discrimination clause.

DWF has seen nearly 10 cases of discrimination against people with special needs or disabilities in the past year.

The managing partner at the firm, Shiraz Sethi, told The National that most of these cases were settled out of court, as discrimination can be "difficult to prove".

“Discrimination cases during the hiring process, whether brought by people of determination or more generally, are difficult to prove in the UAE. Whilst the discrimination laws are developing in this jurisdiction, currently they are still very much in their infancy and there is not enough precedents to determine how the court will perceive such behaviour by employers,” he said.

“For candidates who feel they have been discriminated against, they will need to demonstrate that they have not been hired based on their qualifications and experience but instead a protected characteristic has been breached by the employer.”

Yousif Ahmed, chief executive of Richmond Sterling Law, said Federal Law No.29 of 2006 also prevents discrimination against people with disabilities.

Article 16 of the law states that a person’s disability shall not be a barrier to their consideration and selection for a job.

“Sometimes we do hear of cases where individuals who have certain disabilities have applied for jobs but have been unsuccessful and attribute this to their disability or special needs,” Mr Ahmed said.

“On such occasions, they are typically not provided with feedback on their application for employment which can in turn lead to them speculating that they have been unsuccessful as a result of their disability.

“In most instances, it will be difficult for such speculation to amount to anything more than that in the absence of evidence – and this is perhaps one reason why these types of cases are few and far between or generally under-reported.”