November 12, 2006

Appendix 1: Human Rights Watch Letter to UAE Minister of Labor

July 14, 2006

His Excellency Dr. Ali Abdulla Al Kaabi

Minister of Labor

Ministry of Labor,

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Your Excellency,

Human Rights Watch is preparing a report regarding the conditions of migrant workers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). We recently conducted a fact-finding mission in the UAE. Our goal is to include the views and testimonies of the people who work in the UAE, their employers, and the UAE government, with respect to the policies and conditions governing migrant work there. Prior to our mission, Human Rights Watch contacted your office on February 9, 2006, through your secretary Mr. Mohammad Salem, requesting an interview during our visit. Unfortunately, we did not receive any reply to this request. A copy of the letter is attached. During our visit to the UAE, we also made several attempts to reach your office by phone, but were not able to secure an appointment with you.

As we emphasized in our earlier communication, we would like to ensure our report properly reflects your government's views, policies and practices regarding the conditions of migrant workers.

We would appreciate your comments on the following issues by July 31st, 2006; if we receive your comments by then, we will certainly reflect them in our upcoming publication.

  • On March 30, 2006, Your Excellency announced that the UAE will enact a law by the end of this year that will allow workers to form unions and to legalize collective bargaining. We would be grateful if you could provide us a copy of this law, so that we may reflect the proposed legislative changes in our report.
  • According to media reports quoting the Labor Ministry, as of 2005, there were 2,738,000 expatriate workers in the UAE, and 246,420 companies registered in the UAE that employ migrant workers. Please could you verify and update these statistics?
  • According to our research, the Ministry of Labor currently employs eighty inspectors to oversee the labor practices of the 246,420 companies that employ migrant workers. Is this figure correct? How many companies have these inspectors inspected in the past two years? Are the findings of their inspections made public, and if so, can we obtain copies of their findings for the past three years? Does the Ministry of Labor have any plans to increase the number of inspectors?
  • What are the mechanisms for inspection and enforcement of the UAE's employment laws?
  • We understand that the Ministry of Labor arbitrates labor disputes and, if necessary, refers them to the judiciary. How many labor disputes did the Ministry receive in 2004 and 2005? How many cases did it resolve through arbitration, and how many did it refer to the courts? What were the nature of the complaints filed? Whether by arbitration or court order, what percentage of the cases resulted in awards or reinstatement or restitution to employees?
  • How many cases have led to the imposition of fines and/or prison sentences against construction companies for violating the labor law? Please provide us any information regarding the amounts of fines, or other penalties imposed, and the names of companies involved.
  • In August 2005, local media in the UAE published reports that the number of migrant workers working in the construction sector who died in 2004 exceeded 800. The official government figure for the number of workplace deaths in 2004 is thirty-four. How do you explain the discrepancy between the government's statistics and the reported figures? In particular, are the companies operating in "Free Zones" required to report to the government incidents of death and injury at their work-sites? How do you gather statistics on the number of laborers injured or killed on construction sites? What kind of provisions for medical care, social security benefits, and transfer of remains are made available, if any?
  • According to the UAE labor law, all companies are obligated to report death and injuries at workplace to the Ministry of Labor. According to the Ministry of Labor officials, quoted in the media, only six companies filed reports of death and injury in 2005. What is the government doing to make sure that companies report instances of death and injury?
  • On September 23, 2005, hundreds of workers for the Al Hamed Development and Construction of Abu Dhabi publicly protested that their employer had not paid them their salary for the past four months. Your office immediately ordered Al Hamed Development and Construction to pay the workers their full unpaid wages. As of April 3, 2006, when we interviewed workers at Al Hamed Development and Construction, they told us that they were paid only two months of back-wages. The Al Hamed workers said that as of April 3, 2006, they are owed three months of wages. Please provide us any information regarding any actions your government has taken to resolve this matter. How is the government holding Al Hamed Company accountable for its persistent violation of workers rights?
  • In the course of our research, we have come across many cases of workers who have been abandoned by their employers. In these cases, the employers held back paying wages to their workers for many months and then fled the country. Under UAE law, all companies must have a business partner who is a UAE national. However, our research indicates that the UAE nationals are not being held accountable in these cases. Can you provide us with information regarding the identity and number of UAE nationals found guilty of violating UAE labor laws, particularly in cases of bankrupt construction companies?
  • We would like to ask your response to the particular case of East Coast & Hamriah Company. On April 13, 2005, the Sharjah Federal Court of the First Instance has issued verdicts that the company owes 23 of its workers various dues. However, because the Lebanese owner of the company has fled, the authorities have told the workers there is no way they can recover their lost wages and that the company's UAE partner is not liable. Could you please respond why in this case the UAE partner is not being held liable? Please see copies of court rulings in the case of three out of the 23 workers attached to this letter.
  • According to the UAE law, it is illegal for employers to withhold their employees' passports. Human Rights Watch found that employers routinely ignore this law and confiscate employee passports. What is the government doing to address this illegal yet widespread practice?
  • According to Article 63 of the UAE labor law, the Ministry of Labor is required to put in place a minimum wage. Why has the Ministry never fulfilled its legal obligation? What is the government currently doing to fulfill this legal requirement?

Please do not hesitate to include any other materials, statistics, and government actions regarding the conditions of migrant workers in the UAE that you think might be relevant. Thank you in advance for your time in addressing this urgent matter.

Sincerely,

Hadi Ghaemi

Researcher

Middle East and North Africa Division

Human Rights Watch

cc: His Excellency Ambassador Saqr Ghobash, UAE Ambassador to the United States

His Excellency Ambassador Abdulaziz Nasser R. El-Shamsi, UAE Permanent Representative to the United Nations