Capital: Abu Dhabi
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182
The new draft labour law does not give the right to join unions or to collective bargaining. A new law establishes an employment contract for domestic servants, and measures have been announced to improve migrant workers' working conditions. Thousands of migrant workers in the construction sector were arrested or deported following many strikes.
Trade union rights in law
Freedom of association and right to collective bargaining – Prohibition: The current Labour Law does not permit trade unions, although workers are allowed to associate for the furtherance of common goals and interests.
The law does not recognise the right to collective bargaining. Wages are fixed in individual contracts that are reviewed by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. The Immigration Ministry performs this role for domestic staff, as most are foreign nationals, but this may change with the new law (see below).
Workers' representatives have some say in settling disputes, through complaints to the Ministry of Labour or, if the Ministry is unable to mediate a solution within ten days, through joint Conciliation Committees, chaired by the Ministry. However, workers do not have the right to stop work while a dispute is being resolved.
Some sectors not covered: Labour legislation does not cover public service workers, domestic workers or anyone working in the agricultural sector. Employees in the latter two sectors have great difficulty in negotiating employment contracts and are particularly exposed in the event of a dispute with their employer.
Draft law falls far short of ILO standards: The draft labour law released for comment on the Internet in March 2007 falls far short of ILO norms.
It does not allow workers to form or join independent trade unions and does not give them the right to bargaining collectively. It also punishes striking workers. It fails to protect migrant workers by failing to incorporate a 2001 ruling that prohibited employers from confiscating employees' passports.
It discriminates against women workers by limiting their access to nighttime employment and heavy work and treats them as dependent on men.
Right to strike – banned in the public sector: Public sector workers and national security guards are not allowed to strike.
The law does not provide for the right to strike for other workers but does not forbid it either. The Labour Minister is allowed to intervene to end a strike and to force workers to go back to work.
Ill-treatment of migrant workers: Migrant workers are banned from going on strike. Those who do, or provoke one "without a valid reason" can be banned from working for a year, and if they are absent from work for more than seven days without a valid reason, can have their work permits cancelled and be deported.
Employment contracts for foreign domestic workers: The government has established a standard contract for foreign domestic workers that abolishes commission fees by recruitment agencies and provides for decent living and working conditions. In the case of India housemaids, the government reached a bilateral agreement with the Indian government that maids must be paid a minimum wage and offered a minimum set of working conditions.
Government to improve pay and working conditions: In response to the many construction workers' strikes in 2007, the government created a salary review committee consisting of labour ministry officials and construction company representatives.
Export processing zones (EPZs): Although the EPZs are supposed to comply with the Labour Law, they are not regulated by the Ministry of Labour. Each zone has its own department to deal with workers' issues.
Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2008
Background: Migrants, most of whom come from South Asia, account for between 85% and 95% of the workforce. They include 1.5 million expatriate Indians (42.5% of the total labour force and 65% are in the blue-collar category). A large number of them work as contract labour in the booming construction industry. In addition, there are an estimated 300,000 illegal workers. Strikes and demonstrations are becoming more frequent and violent as thousands of workers in the construction industry are forced to live and work in harsh conditions. Furthermore, many have to wait months to be paid, and the work is very hazardous. In the light of these events, government and business representatives met with India officials and trade unions and civil society groups on 18 June to discuss how to ensure these workers were employed under humane conditions.
Goodwill gestures by the authorities: Despite making arrests and deportations, the authorities have established two bodies, the Permanent Committee for Labour Affairs and the police authorities' Human Rights Department. These apparently receive thousands of complaints and enable employees to receive back pay. However, government announcements that it intended to bring in reforms such as a special Labour Court and the recruitment of a large number of Labour Inspectors have come to nothing.
Indian government launched a resource centre for overseas workers: In January, in response to complaints about the treatment of India expatriates, the Indian government launched the Overseas Workers Resource Centre and the Prime Minister's Global Advisory Council.
On 31 October, at a Global Forum on Migration and Development in the Philippines, the UAE government announced an initiative to improve working and living conditions for migrant workers. It committed to identify best practices in temporary contractual employment for Filipino and India workers in the UAE's construction, health care and hospitality sectors.
Migrant workers exploited: Legal workers are bound by the sponsor system, which puts them at the mercy of their employers and recruitment agencies. They can be deported if they try to organise trade unions.
Migrant workers jailed and deported: On 14 March, 45 Indian construction workers were sentenced to six month's imprisonment followed by deportation for striking for better working conditions. They were among 1,000 who were arrested, after 2,400 labourers held a protest outside the Drake and Scull Group about the low level of monthly wages, which stand at US$163.
Migrant workers held for questioning after violent protest: Hundreds of Asian labourers were arrested for questioning on March 18 at an electric and sewage maintenance company in Sharjah (one of the seven states that make up the UAE), after around 1,500 workers protested about their wages and living conditions. The authorities dubbed the behaviour as "subversive".
3,147 Asian workers arrested after food protests: 3,147 workers (mainly from India, but a few from Bangladesh and Pakistan) at the RAK Ceramics factory at Ras Al Khaimah were arrested and taken to detention centres for rioting about the quality of food in their labour camp on 4 July. On 17 July, all except eight of the workers were released and sent back to their work camps.
Government deports striking taxi drivers: In August the authorities in Abu Dhabi rounded up 250 taxi drivers for holding a protest outside the City Hall and between 50 and 250 were allegedly deported.
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