-- - 30/3/2006
The UAE Minister of Labour, Dr Ali bin Abdullah Al Kaabi, has categorically denied claims made by the US-based Human Rights Watch, in a report accusing the UAE government of turning a blind eye to problems faced by workers and labourers such as non payment of wages, lack of medical care facilities, and squalid housing conditions.
The local laws, rules and institutions, in the UAE are all aimed to prevent any such ill-treatment of labourers. Apart from that, His Highness General Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has set up a specific facility for labourers by establishing the Dubai Police Human Rights Department and the Permanent Committee of Labour Affairs in Dubai. Both these establishments look into issues relating to legal rights of labourers and to meet their demands in case any violations of the local laws is brought to their notice.
The contact number and addresses of both these bodies have been made available to labourers at labour camps, project sites, and through public advertisement.
The minister added emphatically that the UAE Labour Law and other local laws safeguard the rights and financial security of expatriate workers in the country.
The ministry applies stringent procedures and rules on employers to safeguard the rights of labourers. Employers should furnish a Dh3,000 deposit per worker to the ministry upon submitting a work permit application. This money is to be paid to the worker should the employer default on salary payments.
The ministry also has the right to transfer the sponsorship of workers if a particular employer fails to or delays pay salary payments.
All companies are required to periodically furnish the ministry with a salary statement regarding their workers. Should a company fail to do so, it is automatically blocked by the ministry's computer system. This means that the relevant company cannot process any type of transaction with the ministry until it has furnished the required salary statement," added Dr Al Kaabi.
The HRW report quoted Sarah Leah Whitson, its Middle East and North Africa Director, saying "One of the world's largest construction booms is feeding off workers in Dubai, but they are treated as less than human."
Lieutenant-Colonel, Rashid Bakhit, member of the Permanent Committee of Labour Affairs in Dubai and Assistant Director of the Dubai Naturalisation and Residency Department in Charge of Follow up and Investigation, noted that the government does not turn a blind eye to non-payment and other demands made by labourers. He said, labourers who have complaints about their living conditions should report the matter to the committee.
But, he admitted, there are some cases involving a delay in payment of salaries to workers.
However, he clarified, "These cases are not too large in number. In most cases, the delays are because the employer himself did not receive his dues on time."
Also, in some cases the recruitment agencies in the home country of the labourer give false and misleading promises to workers about salaries and other benefits in the UAE. When they come here, they are shocked when these promises are not fulfilled. The committee is working with the agencies through their country's consulates to prevent such practices," he noted.
Lieutuenant-General Dhahi Khalfan, Commander-in-Chief of Dubai Police, said that the HRW has no awareness about the efforts and initiatives taken by the UAE government in this context. The HRW, he added, "does not have any proof to substantiate their accusations while we have statistics to prove what we claim."
The Human Rights Department, in fact, has successfully mediated and ensured that a payment of Dh24 million in salaries is made to complainant workers during November 2005 to February 2006. The department also referred 6,000 complaints to the court.