II. Recommendations

To the Government of the United Arab Emirates

1. Establish an independent commission to investigate and publicly report on the situation of migrant workers in the country.

The government of the UAE should directly confront and seek to address the abuse of migrant construction workers in the country. As there is limited official information available on their extent, the government should immediately initiate an independent inquiry into these abuses by establishing an independent commission.

The commission should investigate the federal government’s failure to enforce the protective provisions of the current legal framework. As part of its mandate, the commission should be empowered to have unfettered access to government records on worker disputes; to hold public hearings; and to collect testimonies from migrant workers and their advocates as well as from regional and international nongovernmental organizations with expertise on migrant workers’ issues and rights.

The commission should be required by law to complete its inquiry within a defined period of time, and make its findings and recommendations public.

2. Prohibit companies from doing business with recruitment agencies, in the UAE and abroad, that charge workers fees for travel, visas, employment contracts, or anything else. Prosecute and implement significant penalties for employers and recruiting agencies that violate the law.

UAE law prohibits local construction companies and recruitment agencies from charging migrant workers any fees in connection with their employment in the UAE. However, the government appears to be doing little to prosecute the commonplace violation of this law by recruiting agencies and employers whereby recruiting agencies (or proxy agencies is source countries) charge workers the fees, from which employers are reimbursed whatever fees they have paid for the record. The government must take affirmative steps to prosecute the widescale violation of this law, impose substantial fines on employers and recruiting agencies found guilty, and should require construction companies to reimburse employees who are found to have paid fees to the recruiting agent arranging their employment. Furthermore, UAE law should be amended to ban construction companies from recruiting through agencies in source countries that require workers to pay fees. Finally, the UAE government should work with the governments of the source countries to prosecute and prohibit local recruiting agencies who engage in this practice.

3. Aggressively investigate and prosecute employers who violate other provisions of the UAE labor law. Impose meaningful and consequential penalties on companies that violate workers’ rights, to put an end to the present atmosphere of impunity.

As documented in this report, construction companies routinely withhold wages from employees, and confiscate their passports.Construction companies continue to violate the law because they have not been held responsible in any meaningful way by the government. The government should ensure that government investigators and prosecutors are adequately staffed and trained to prosecute these violations of the law.It should impose substantial penalties on companies found to violate the law; this should have the important effect of deterring other companies from further violations.

In cases in which employers flee or refuse to pay penalties imposed for violating workers’ rights, the government should liquidate the employers’ bank guarantees ( posted as part of the application to sponsor migrant workers) to enforce the judgments on behalf of the affected workers. UAE labor law should be amended to explicitly require the liquidation of employers’ bank guarantees in such cases.

4. Provide quantitative and qualitative data on labor disputes, deaths and injuries at construction sites, and government actions to address these issues.

The extent of violations against migrant construction workers is difficult to quantify because data and government transparency are lacking. The government should publicly report the number of labor disputes and how they are resolved, and collect and publicly disclose comprehensive data, information, and statistics on numbers and causes of deaths and injuries in the construction sector. This data should include information on what happens to injured workers, how many are sent home, and how they are compensated by their employers. UAE labor law should be amended to mandate such data collection and public reporting.

5. Increase substantially the number of inspectors responsible for overseeing the private sector’s treatment of migrant construction workers. Ensure that they carry out their duties to inspect construction sites to verify that they are safe and meet the requirements of law.

The current number of government inspectors overseeing the construction sector is inadequate. The government should increase the number of inspectors substantially in order to strengthen its ability to oversee construction companies and to compel them to abide by UAE law. The government recently announced that it plans to increase the number of inspectors to 1,000 within the next 18 months. It should make sure that this plan is instituted and that it will result in efficient implementation of the labor law. The government should also ensure that the inspectors are able to communicate with workers in the language of their home countries.

6. Take immediate action to inform and educate migrant construction workers arriving for employment in the UAE of their rights under UAE law.

The majority of migrant construction workers are illiterate and unaware of their rights in the UAE. Upon arrival in the UAE, the government should provide them with information about their rights, both verbally and in writing and in a language they can understand, and how to seek redress in cases where their rights are violated.

7. Abide by the obligation under the UAE labor law of 1980 to implement a minimum wage.

The government should immediately institute a reasonable minimum wage.

8. Allow for the establishment of genuine and independent human rights and workers’ rights organizations.

The lack of a broad civil society sector in the UAE is a major impediment to bringing to light the true extent of abuses. The official climate is obstructive toward civil society organizations (for example, without explanation the government has withheld permits from two out of three human rights organizations that have requested them, and the government has repeatedly threatened with prosecution a women’s rights group that is operating a shelter for abused women in Dubai). The government should permit the establishment of nongovernmental organizations that can routinely monitor the human rights conditions in the country, report and document abuses, and provide advocacy on behalf of migrant workers.

9. Ratify the International Labour Organization’s Conventions No. 87 and No. 98 on freedom of association and collective bargaining, and amend UAE labor law to incorporate the conventions’ protections.

UAE law does not contain any provisions on trade unions and collective bargaining. It explicitly prohibits labor strikes. As long as workers are deprived of their rights to have trade union representation and collective bargaining, and their derivative right to strike, their ability to counter the violations committed by their employers is significantly limited. UAE labor law should be amended to comply with international standards and explicitly protect workers’ right to organize and bargain collectively; the ban on labor strikes should be repealed. The law should provide for the formation of independent unions free from employer and government interference. The unions should be empowered to represent workers effectively and efficiently and allowed to draw up their rules, elect their representatives, and operate in full freedom. All workers, regardless of their citizenship, should have the right to join trade unions and be allowed to participate fully and have active representation and voting rights.

10. Ratify the International Labour Organization’s Convention No. 155 on occupational safety and health.

In light of serious concerns for workers health and safety and the government’s lack of comprehensive data, the government should ratify this convention and ensure that international standards with regard to workers health and safety are in place.

11. Ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

The UAE is a country where migrant workers constitute the majority of residents. The UAE should ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families and amend UAE labor law to incorporate the convention’s provisions, to ensure that the migrant workers rights are protected according to international standards.

To the Governments of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka

1. Enhance labor departments of your embassies and consulates in the UAE to assist migrant construction workers from your country whose rights are violated by their employers.

Lack of civil society organizations, unions, and labor advocacy groups in the UAE means that migrant construction workers do not have access to any institutional resources when their rights are violated and are unable to self-organize to address the abuses. The embassies and consulates of the workers’ home countries should step in to fill this void. They should provide their nationals with guidance, translators, and legal assistance to pursue their complaints with UAE authorities.

2. Raise formally with your counterparts in the UAE the importance of the UAE government’s establishing an independent commission to investigate and report on labor-related abuses of migrant construction workers.

The UAE economy in general, and the construction sector in particular, is highly dependent on migrant workers. The economies of sending countries are also benefiting greatly from the migrant workers’ remittances home. The UAE and sending country governments should work cooperatively to ensure that mutual economic benefits are accompanied by improvements in workers’ rights.

3. Urge the UAE’s Ministry of Labor to fully implement its labor laws and to hold violators fully accountable under its laws.

4. Request immediate and full disclosure of causes of death when your country’s citizens suffer fatal injuries, and regular reports of all workplace injuries suffered by your citizens.

To the Governments of the United States, the European Union, and Australia

1. Condition the ratification of free trade agreements with the government of the UAE on improved protection for workers’ rights. In particular, insist that prior to adoption of the accords, the UAE reform its labor laws to bring them into compliance with international workers’ rights standards, including by explicitly and fully protecting workers’ right to organize, bargain collectively, and strike. Further require that, before ratification of the agreements, the UAE also take the steps necessary to effectively enforce its labor laws, including by adopting a minimum wage provision and following the other recommendations for improved enforcement set forth above.

2. Include in free trade agreements with the government of the UAE strong, binding, and enforceable workers’ rights provisions that require that parties’ labor laws conform with international standards and that the parties effectively enforce those labor laws.