UAE ministry warns salary defaulters

The Labour Ministry will begin publishing the names of employers who fail to pay their workers, the ministry's undersecretary said, warning that protests by unpaid labourers are damaging the image of the United Arab Emirates.

    Up to one million foreigners work as unskilled labourers

    "If they (employers) don't care about our country's reputation, we don't care about their reputation," Undersecretary Khalid Alkhazraji told The Associated Press in an interview on Tuesday.

    Thousands of angry workers have taken to the streets, disrupting traffic, in the UAE this year.

    Many of the labourers claim to have worked for months without pay.

    Alkhazraji said the Labour Ministry had counted 18 strikes by unpaid workers since 1 January, involving more than 10,000 people.

    The largest strike involved 3000 unpaid construction labourers.

    Royal family

    The threat to name the defaulting employers is significant because they include companies owned by members of the royal family, who have never been shamed publicly by the government in the past.

    Alkhazraji said the failure to pay was usually the fault of the companies and their managers because they could not handle the projects they had undertaken.

    There have been 18 strikes by
    unpaid workers since 1 January 

    Migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China and elsewhere have poured into the UAE in recent years, as it experienced a building boom. Almost a million foreigners work as unskilled labourers on construction sites.

    Last year alone, the government issued 500,000 visas for foreign workers - a 20% increase in the country's work force, Alkhazraji said.

    But working conditions are often poor.

    Rights organisations

    The US State Department and Human Rights Watch have accused the UAE of exploitation of migrant workers, including women and children, and of permitting harsh conditions, such as labourers living in squalid camps and toiling in high temperatures.

    "You need to look at the UAE as a new country, a developing country. You cannot ratify these things all at once. We need time to prepare the ground."

    Khalid Alkhazraji
    UAE Labour Ministry Undersecretary

    The Labour Ministry has begun to recognise the plight of unskilled labourers.

    In a number of recent directives, Labour Minister Ali bin Abd Allah al-Kaabi has demanded that salaries should be kept up to date.

    Al-Kaabi has also fined companies for violations and prohibited them from hiring foreigners.

    Asked about the mounting number of worker protests, Alkhazraji said: "We, as a government, encourage them to speak out if there is a problem. We support them."

    The government says it is keen to upgrade labour standards, as they are an issue in negotiations for a free trade agreement with the US.

    Sticking points

    Top sticking points include giving workers the right to form trade unions and bargain collectively.

    Alkhazraji acknowledged that such rights could have huge consequences for the country, perhaps slowing down the building boom and causing prices to rise.

    "We're working towards it," Alkhazraji said.

    "You need to look at the UAE as a new country, a developing country. You cannot ratify these things all at once. We need time to prepare the ground."

    The government also worries that the work force could be radicalised by "outside groups" such as foreign unions or political parties, Alkhazraji said.

    SOURCE: Unspecified


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