November 24, 2006
Labor Rights in the UAE: An Update
In the UAE, a new agreement means middlemen are to be cut out of the labor supply chain bringing workers to the country from four countries that serve as major sources of manpower.
If the agreement works, it will go a long way towards bridging the gap between what workers expect when they leave their home countries, and what they actually receive. However, this is a big 'if,' especially given the the number of regulations regarding workers that already exist but remain unenforced. Nevertheless, the agreement would serve the interests of both workers themselves and the companies that hire them. Workers are often cheated by unscrupulous agents into illegally paying large sums of money to secure jobs, and these funds are often secured by pawning the family jewelry or through loansharks charging exorbitant interest rates. When the workers in question find out how much they will actually be paid, they are not happy. All too often, low morale- also caused by poor working conditions- has led to work disruptions, as workers have put down their tools in protest.
The timing of the agreement is noteworthy, as it comes after a damning Human Rights Watch statement and report on current conditions. The unconvincing rebuttal in the local press was most noteworthy by mere virtue of its existence- by denying the claims, the government publicly acknowledged that the status quo was not to everyone's liking.
Significantly, the Prime Minister, who doubles as the ruler of Dubai, has chimed in to
call for an improvement in workers' conditions. Once again, it remains to be seen whether anything substantive will come of this, but with increasing attention now being paid overseas to the exploitation of workers- ABC's 20/20 was the latest to cover the subject- the UAE is slowly realizing that it can only get away with so much if it wants to sustain its image as a tourist destination. The country is therefore likely to put an end to some of its worst practices.
That having been said, agreements like this one should be seen as only part of the solution for those who would like to bring about better working conditions. The major part lies in the enforcement of existing laws governing how workers are treated once they actually arrive in the country. A win-win solution will be harder to arrive at there, given that any changes resulting in the betterment of workers' conditions will cost money- money that will have to come out of the pockets of the politically connected local businessmen who employ them.
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Glad to see the South Asian country embassies are getting involved, and hope something comes of this initiative.
Posted by: SP at November 25, 2006 02:44 AM
Particulars, please, on this "new agreement." For example: Who is agreeing, where is it reported?
Posted by: John B. Chilton at December 4, 2006 06:58 AM
John B. Chilton
Might I suggest you look at the first link in this post for the details you seek?
Posted by: TSAG at December 5, 2006 12:34 AM