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By Jenny David
Oct. 2—Labor and immigration officials have stepped up workplace inspections throughout the United Arab Emirates. The spot-checks, announced earlier this summer, are part of a trend toward stricter enforcement of labor regulations, particularly those affecting foreign workers.
Many inspections have focused on the construction industry, the Foreign Ministry said, adding that “the UAE considers it a priority to work on an ongoing basis to improve the conditions” of construction workers. Inspectors are also verifying that employers provide physical laborers with a compulsory midday break during the hottest hours of the desert kingdom's workday and investigating whether workers are carrying the new electronic labor cards as required by a directive that took effect in mid-July over employers' objections.
During the past three months, almost 80,000 companies located both within and outside the UAE's free trade zones for foreign businesses have been audited, the Labor Ministry confirmed Sept. 22. Some 99 percent were found to be in compliance with the midday-break law, violation of which entails fines of up to 15,000 dirham ($4,100) and closure of repeat offenders' businesses.
The ministry did not note the number of workers found to be lacking valid labor and residency permits, but a recent report from workplace inspections in Abu Dhabi said that more than 1,000 such cases had been referred to prosecutors in the past year.
Companies can be fined 50,000 dirham ($13,600) for breaching residency rules and owners can be imprisoned for repeated mistreatment of their workers, a ministry official noted, adding that employers should ensure their workers' documents are in order and are in their workers' possession at all times.
Several labor laws have been amended to better protect workers' rights in the UAE, according to a recent Foreign Ministry report. Initiatives have included the adoption of international labor conventions, fines for violations such as the withholding of workers' travel documents and late or nonpayment of wages, strict housing rules, recruitment protection and the expansion of complaint mechanisms.
The UAE has also made significant progress in enforcing workers' rights, according to Emirates Human Rights Association Treasurer Jamila Al Hamli, who reported to an August conference that labor complaints received by the association dropped by 30-40 percent in the first half of 2014, and most complaints—related to wrongful termination and malicious behavior—were resolved quickly.
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For more information on HR law and regulation, see the UAE primer.
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