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New labour laws in UAE, Qatar to benefit Indians

By Vimala Vasan

<232,0,0,0,100>A fortnightly column dealing with developments, events, issues and trends concerning expatriates in the Gulf countries from Kerala. The writer is based in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI: The Gulf states of United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar in recent weeks issued regulations and enacted laws aimed at improving the working conditions, terms of payment and rights of expatriate workers.

The large number of blue-collar workers from India and other countries in the sub-continent are likely to benefit from the new regulations which could help alleviate tricky issues like non-payment of salaries that have compelled many workers over the years to return home without receiving their dues. Most of the recorded cases of non-payment of salaries were owing to liquidation of firms because of financial problems and absconding or irresponsible expatriate employers.

The UAE Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs recently issued a regulation making it imperative for companies to pay a bank guarantee of Dh.3,000 for every new staff member and sums going up to Dh.5,00,000 to cover existing employees depending on the company size. The guarantee would provide compensation to workers who have not been paid their salaries for indefinite periods.

Qatar also has announced a new labour law that provides for a detailed legal framework for the protection of the rights of its nationals and expatriate workers, with focus on their terms of employment, working conditions and safety. The law will penalise erring employees and provide for surprise inspections of workers' sites to ensure proper working conditions.

Indian mission officials in both the Gulf states, who have been grappling with labour-related issues of Indian expatriates, have welcomed the new regulations and laws and hoped that they would be implemented in their true spirit by companies.

K.M. Venugopalan, Consul, Labour Matters, Indian Consulate, Dubai, points out that the move by the UAE authorities is positive, as bank guarantees could cover the costs of fares and salaries of workers whose dues were nominal, as average salaries for blue-collar workers employed in the construction sector or as fitters, plumbers, etc, ranged from Dh.600 onwards. However, in cases where wages were not paid for four to six months or more, the surety would not be able to cover the compensation and gratuity in most cases would not be paid, he says. There were 400 labour-related complaints registered with the Consulate last year, while from January to May this year, the figure was 195.

The UAE authorities have been providing all assistance and are urging workers to come forward with their complaints in a bid to resolve cases. But mission officials say that many workers do not state their case, fearing termination of services by the employers. This fear is fuelled by the fact that workers from India pay huge amounts to recruiting agencies to find jobs in the Gulf and it takes them months to recover these expenses. A section of the workers are also worried that the new rule may lead to employers passing on the burden of the guarantees to the employees through monthly deductions. "Aspirants from India should be aware of these rules and ensure that they are not being taken for a ride while scouting for jobs in the Gulf," the mission officials point out. The Consulate had also written to the Kerala Government's Department of Non-Resident Keralites Affairs (NoRKA) regarding several instances where agents promise jobs, particularly to prospective housemaids, who later find themselves caught in unpleasant situations, he adds.

In Qatar, the Indian Embassy official in charge of labour affairs, who had been busy issuing tickets and assisting in clearance of amnesty seekers before the June 21 deadline set by the Government, says the number of labour-related cases had come down in recent years. The new labour law would definitely help in tackling and resolving labour-related disputes and improve working conditions. Indian amnesty seekers in Qatar, majority of whom are from Kerala, could number nearly 1,000 this year, though only 350 have approached the mission for assistance, he says. Many of the amnesty seekers are absconding workers who have left their previous sponsors owing to a host of reasons, including non-payment of salaries and were working illegally in some other jobs.

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