UAE’s stricter labour rules welcomed by diplomats

Newly announced changes to labour laws have been warmly welcomed by diplomats from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.

Labourers work on a construction site in Dubai. The new labour rules have been hailed by diplomats for being more transparent Sarah Dea / The National
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ABU DHABI // Recent changes to labour laws have been welcomed by diplomats from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.

Diplomatic missions said the new rules were more transparent and appeared to further guarantee the welfare of labourers. They said middlemen and unscrupulous agents had exploited workers and deprived them of their rights in the past.

The diplomats, who represent a large part of the UAE’s expatriate population, met Ministry of Labour officials on Monday and were briefed about the new hiring rules.

The changes were aimed at making the labour contracts process more transparent and compliant, including the terms of termination. They will come into force from January 1 through three decrees, the ministry said last week.

Sisira Senavirathne, charge d’affaires at the Sri Lankan embassy in Abu Dhabi, attended the briefing and lauded the UAE’s efforts to improve the welfare of labourers.

“The most important thing about the new labour rules is that the written contracts can’t be substituted once the labourer has arrived here. So the worker would know before coming to the UAE what his contract is,” Mr Senavirathne said.

Once a contract is agreed upon by all parties and signed, neither party can change it without consulting the other once a worker reaches here, he said.

There are 250,000 Sri Lankans in the UAE, of whom more than 70 per cent are domestics.

“The complaints we receive at the mission include those of workers’ contracts being changed when they arrive here. But the new rules will end that exploitation,” Mr Senavirathne said.

This would also help workers change their jobs if they feel unsatisfied, the Sri Lankan diplomat said.

Under the new policies, prospective foreign workers will be asked to sign a standard employment offer in their home country, which will be filed with the Ministry of Labour in the UAE before a work permit is issued.

That agreement will then be registered as a legal contract once the worker arrives in the UAE, and no changes will be allowed unless they are additional benefits that the worker has agreed to.

Arman Ullah Chowdhury, labour counsellor at the Bangladesh embassy in Abu Dhabi, said: “I welcome the move. This is going to resolve plenty of grievances by workers.

“New rules for hiring workers would further make things transparent for both parties – employers and the employee.” More than 700,000 Bangladeshis reside in the UAE.

A lack of proper documentation on both sides had contributed to workers’ rights being exploited, and employees found it hard to change their jobs if they wanted, the diplomat said.

“Many times workers didn’t understand what was in the official documents, as they were in Arabic, but now they will be translated in a language that the worker understands,” Mr Chowdhury said.

The three new rules issued by the ministry covered ministry-approved contracts, conditions for terminating employment and labour permits for new employers.

Contracts can be terminated by either side under terms set out by the ministry. Once this is done, workers are free to switch to a new employer.

T P Seetharam, the Indian ambassador to the UAE, said: “The Minister of Labour and his ministry are improving the welfare of employees, and the measures taken to avoid the problem of substitution of contracts are very welcome.”

About 2.5 million Indians live in the country.

“The provisions that allow for greater mobility for the employees, in terms of moving [from] one job to another, are also welcome. We look forward to encouraging the dialogue to discuss details of how to coordinate actions by governments of both sides to implement these measures in an effective manner,” Mr Seetharam said.

The Pakistan consulate in Dubai also expressed its satisfaction.

Haroon Malik, labour attaché at the consulate, said: “We are still assessing different aspects of the rules. But we can say this law will be for the betterment of labourers,” Mr Malik said.

About 1.2 million Pakistanis live in the Emirates.