Time for the UAE to enforce the rule of law

For the business community to thrive in the UAE, the rule of law must be enforced.

It is not enough that the law protects employees, or that government officials encourage workers to speak out.

To prove that the Gulf is serious about always operating in a transparent manner, authorities need to crackdown in a timely manner on companies not paying their workers.

To some, this may sound obvious, but there is a hesitancy on the part of GCC officials to denounce publicly those companies that are delinquent in paying their employees. Unfortunately, a law on the books does not mean it is enforced.

The summer of 2017 had a number of instances in which workers had not been paid for months. If the region wants to get ahead of the story, it needs to act quickly in every instance. Local media in all GCC countries have reported in the past five months the non-payment of wages to workers.

• In June, BNA, the official news agency of Bahrain, said money owed to employees of a Bahraini construction company would be paid “within days” and “under direct supervision” of the Labour and Social Development Ministry. (No information was reported on how long it had been since the men last received their salaries.)

• In June, it was reported that Filipino and Nepalese workers in Qatar had been stuck in limbo after resigning from their jobs in January following months in which they had not been paid.

• In August, UAE media said more than 1,000 construction workers in Abu Dhabi had not been paid since April.

• Also in August, media in Oman reported that about 2,000 expat workers had not been paid in four months.

As populations grow, societies mature and a country’s business community becomes sophisticated, more responsibility rests with the individual worker as well as the company. The government has put the laws in place, and steps back to watch as market forces unfold of their own volition.

A year ago this month, a new UAE law came into effect designed to protect workers. The wage protection decree was implemented by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation. According to Wam, the state news agency of the UAE, Saqr bin Ghobash Saeed Ghobash, Minister of Human Resources and Emiratisation said: “The decree fairly contributes towards labour market stability as it safeguards employees while keeping business owners’ interests.”

In March 2017, local media in Dubai reported that UAE officials urged workers who were owed more than two months’ salary to register complaints as quickly as possible to avoid slipping into debt, which could put them in trouble with the authorities.

In April, it was reported by local Saudi media that the government had launched a plan to ensure that domestic workers receive their salaries on time.

Then, in August, Oman’s Ministry of Manpower was quoted by media as explaining the country’s law in detail: “It is noteworthy that the Omani labour law stipulates in its 2nd part ‘regulation of foreign workers’ that every employer, who employs 50 workers or more, has to place in a prominent place at the worksite a system for appeal and grievances”.

In June, Khaled al-Ajmi, the president of the Kuwait Society for Human Rights, said it is time to look at enforcement mechanisms in the law. “Without regular inspection, how can the [government] be sure that employers are following the new regulations?”

In the UAE, government officials want to resolve issues amicably, behind closed doors. These discussions, however, take time, and that means months when workers are not paid.

Authorities need to reduce their response time. They need to be as fast as the news that spreads on social media. Long gone are the days when pretending an unpopular issue will not see the light. Today, it should be the government’s job to shine a light – and to do it quickly – on those companies that want to keep unpopular issues in the dark.

Michael Jabri-Pickett Speechwriter • Editor • Journalist