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The United Arab Emirates (UAE) with a population of 4.1million is one of the countries where most occupants are migrant workers. The UAE comprises of seven emirates, namely Ajman, Sharjah, Dubai, Fujairah, Umm Al Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah, and Abu Dhabi. Only 20 % of the population is composed of UAE citizens, and the rest 80 % is made of migrant workers who work under contract terms. In 2005, the percentage of migrant workers in the private sector was 95 %. Therefore, it is possible to state that the UAE economy is exclusively reliant on foreign workers (Atique). Once these contracts expire, renewal is allowed. However, failure to that means deportation from the country. This paper seeks to clarify the status of employees in the UAE and the international law.
Though the UAE economy has greatly expanded, there have been many claims requiring the international law intervention. Most citizens are in the forefront of law breaking as it pertains to human rights opening the chapter to abuse and discrimination of workers. Regardless of protective requirements in the UAE Labor Law (1980) and succeeding degrees, foreign migrant employees were exploited and abused. Numerous workers, who had paid cash to recruitment agents, testified that they were misled by the provisions and conditions of their job (“UAE: A Move to Protect Migrant Workers”). For instance, construction workers frequently lived in inadequate and insufficient accommodation while few of them held their passports. Delayed payments or non-payment of salary was standard. The “kafala “sponsorship scheme made workers susceptible to abuse by employers, whereas those involved incorporative acts such as strikes or sit-ins were responsible for being arrested and deported. Domestic employees, mostly women from Asia, were consistently barred from the protection afforded to the other migrant workers and faced physical violence, detention to places of occupation, and labor abuses.
The kafala system was introduced in the 1950s with the aim to regulate the relationship that existed between migrant workers and employers. The scheme was used in monitoring migrant laborers who worked in the domestic and construction sectors. This system was considered the chief culprit for all form of abuse at work (Kovessy, Sheble, and Fahmy). In the UAE, this system could tie migrant workers to their individual employers, who in turn acted as their visa sponsors. Besides, the system restricted migrants’ workers the capabilities of changing their employers. It is a fact that this scheme gave employers significant power over workers since it allowed them to invalidate sponsorship at will. The kafala system made women vulnerable to abuse. The migrant workers were excluded from labor law protections. Human rights activists, scholars, and international non-profit organizations refer the kafala system as partial modern-day slavery and also as a form of structural violence aimed at the migrant workers. The system causes, facilitates, and brings about human rights abuse against migrant workers. When roughly translated, kafala means sponsorship. In Qatar, for instance, the sponsor presumes the duties of the employee during his/her stay in the country by agreeing to be the employer. When the employee commits a crime, the latter is accountable for his/her employee actions.
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The UAE has been strongly condemned by the human rights and international labor institutions for the many cases of abuse of migrant laborers from other countries. These criticisms lead to law reformation: a new chapter and change in the lives of many foreign workers. The transformation in the mode of governance has brought about developments in the UAE countries. Much progress has been seen in the legislation and enforcement of a right in the labor force. The rights have been watchfully measured and explored against universal values as they affect the lives of each and everyone. The increased awareness and importance of enforcement and application of labor law rights to both public and private sector has lead to the success in political and economic sectors (Antique). The UAE is a member of international labor organization and has been seen to deal clearly and objectively with all its worldwide labor responsibility. Also, it observes rational and reasoned internal and external condemnation as constructive and obliging (UAE: A Move to Protect Migrant Workers). As a result, much progress has been seen in the countries, and the following are some of the measures undertaken by the government. Regarding others, they are still underway to ensure smooth run of economy and observance of human rights.
The Constitution is the primary form of authority in the countries and gives clarifications on these rights. It purposely recognizes the validity of national standards. According to Article 20 of the UAE Constitution, the law must uphold “the right of workers and employees consistent with advanced international norms.” It is also clear that any form of involuntary labor counting bondage and slavery is forbidden according to Article 34 (UAE: A Move to Protect Migrant Workers). Also, according to Article 40, foreign residents are given additional labor rights. This article purposely links the rights of foreign employees to the principles of international conventions. Everyone has the freedom and right to file complaints with courts and competent authorities. These are some of the much and significant progress that the UAE countries have embraced in compliance with international law as it pertains to the rights and freedoms of foreign workers.
In its lawmaking history, the UAE has insistently and progressively applied such basic constitutional rules. For example, the UAE Federal Law No. 8 of 1980, which governs labor relations, reassures the protection of UAE expatriates and nations alike adding full protection for particular parts. Some of the provisions are that this law “sets maximum working hours” (Article 25). It also prohibits labor by juvenile under the age of 16 (Article 20). Thirdly, it also prohibits night labor by all minors as well as hazardous work for all children (Articles 22 and 23) among others (UAE: A Move to Protect Migrant Workers). The enactment and enforcement of the laws have begun changing the bad image of UAE to a better one. Trust is building back from the foreign employees.
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The UAE has ratified some “International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions” to assert and ensure that employees’ human rights are protected. They include “No. 29 of 1930 on forced labor, No. 105 of 1957 on the abolition of forced labor, and No. 100 of 1951 on equal remuneration among others” (Janic-Cherbonnel). In addition to compliance with the above constitutional laws, conventions and federal laws, much has been put into action ensuring the rights of workers are respected as per the international law. Many developments are seen in the judicial system where more centralized labor courts have been put in place to track difference labor solutions. The system has also ensured safe transport of workers to the workplace, adequate housing, creation of bank guarantees to earmark funds for worker recompense as well as proper housing and feeding for those waiting for deportation back to their countries. Improvements were also seen in freedom to employment transfers, wage protection, and insurance policies.
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To sum up, the UAE acknowledges that there is a lot more to be accomplished to enlarge the capacity and put into effect labor laws as well as entirely protect the rights of employees in the country. It is evident that commendable progress has been realized in the countries that have brought about more economic and political success. Besides, workers have a freedom and access to earlier prohibited and denied rights, and this has continued to change the picture of the countries promoting international unity. The government continually administers the UAE labor setting in conformity with international law and labor standards.
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