19 August 2007

Employment problems in Al Ain

May 5 - May 18, 2007
Issue 22

When James Barratt of the film Marked for Life arrived in Al Ain to work as an English teacher, his employer told him about a joke of a teacher applicant who had asked for 50,000 pounds a year and benefits for his starting salary. The human resources manager told him that he will even be given a 5-week paid vacation, 14 paid holidays, medical benefits, retirement plan and a leased car every two years. The applicant, astounded, asked the interviewer if he is joking, and the human resources manager answered yes.

Things like that happened in real life, even in the Garden City of Al Ain. The employer promises, the employee hopes. “Based on our contract, the company would increase our salary after six months. But until now, even though the government has already called for it, they are not giving to us what we deserve. They would not even give us our whole basic salary. They would pay our overtime after a year, and that is after we ask and complain. We would like them to follow what the government intended for us, follow how the labour system here works, but they have their way most of the time,” cried a warehouse personnel who asked not to be named.

A worker from a car company also experiences the same dilemma. “We are asked to work overtime, but we are not getting paid for all of it. For instance, if we have worked for almost 70 hours in a month, they would just pay us 30 hours. Everything that is indicated on our contract, that we signed, was not followed. But we can’t refuse to stop working because that is what our employers want. We know that if we would not follow them, they could terminate us, and we do not want that. We want to complain but we are afraid of them. My other co-workers are afraid too, although some of them do not seem to mind that we are underpaid.”

There are also some employers who would take advantage of their applicants who are only on a visit visa. “I was about to ‘exit’ when my employer asked me to extend my stay and wait until they arranged my visa and contract. Now, they are deducting from my salary what they paid for the days that I overstayed. I don’t think that is right, but how can I complain?” said a worker from a furniture company.

Not all employers are unfair and abusive though. There are others who treat their workers as if they are the company’s stockholders. Unfortunately, office politics haunt them. “My boss was nice to me. But when my fellow accountants left the company, all of their tasks were given to me. Our head officer was doing nothing. He is not even a good one. I wanted to complain, but everytime I wanted to speak to my employer who is often out of the country, the administration department would stop me from doing so, telling me that they do not know how to contact him,” disclosed an accountant for a shoe manufacturing company.

A writer from Al Ain who used to work in Sharjah packed his bags and left after his employer paid him irregularly for four times ever since he got in the company back in August last year. “At first, I tried to understand because I worked for a publication too in my home country and I know, money is not always good there. But seven months passed and it is still the same. They even managed to make it worse by demanding more work from me, and telling me that I am not working enough even if I really am. You see, a worker needs money, because after all, what have I gone here for? But they seem to use that in their advantage. So I resigned last week from them before they succeeded in lowering my self-esteem and abusing my intentions of trying to help the publication.”

Working on a solution

The UAE has a Labour Law, which is a federal law applicable in all the emirates of the country and to all staff and employees, may they be nationals or expatriates, except for those that are employed by the federal government, armed forces, police and security units, agricultural workers and domestic workers.

The Labour Ministry, on its part, is preparing to set a mandatory minimum wage in the country.

Minister of Labour Dr. Ali Bin Abdullah Al Ka'abi has started on identifying programmes, initially applying to the members of the construction sector then to the entire workforce, which he would recommend to the Council of Ministers. There would also be campaigns that would seek improvement to the conditions of expatriate workforce.

Aside from these, the Ministry has also held consultations and signed Memoranda of Understanding with the labour departments from the countries the expatriates working here are from in order to facilitate a greater regulation of labour recruitment and supply from these countries. Any breach of local regulations will be on the responsibility of the recruitment and labour supply companies.

The UAE-based recruitment agencies, on the other hand, will have more exacting regulations, while an introduction of government-run recruitment agencies that would regularise and rationalise the procedures for recruitment, and eliminate irregularities within the process is being analysed.

No comments: