5 – No guarantee of rights
The ITUC Global Rights Index

United Arab Emirates

The ITUC does not have an affiliate in the United Arab Emirates.

United Arab Emirates has not ratified either Convention No. 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948) or Convention No. 98 on the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (1949).

In practice

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Construction project pulls out of talks to improve working conditions17-04-2016

On 17 April 2016, the Director of the Guggenheim Museum announced it was breaking off negotiations with the Gulf Labor Coalition (GLC), a group of international artists that since 2010 have been working to ensure that migrant worker rights are protected during the construction of museums on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi. The island is being developed by the Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC) to serve as a regional arts hub featuring world-class branches of the Louvre, the British Museum, and the Guggenheim.
More than five years after Human Rights Watch (HRW) first revealed systematic human rights violations of migrant workers there, serious concerns remain about violations of workers’ rights on the island. An updated report published in February 2015 found that some employers continue to withhold wages and benefits from workers, fail to reimburse recruiting fees, confiscate worker passports, and house workers in substandard accommodations. Similar findings emerged in a recent labour audit by Pricewaterhouse Coopers.
The government has also “summarily deported Saadiyat workers who have gone on strike in protest at low pay after their employers contacted the police” say HRW. Trade union rights are not protected in law for migrant workers, and strikes are prohibited.
The Guggenheim objected to the very high profile protests organised by the GLC, which it felt exerted unfair pressure, saying the coalition had not reciprocated the museum’s cooperative efforts. Further pressure was added when the GLC urged the Museum and TDIC to negotiate with other rights organisations, including HRW, the ILO, the ITUC and the Building and Woodworkers’ International (BWI). But, the GLC said, “Guggenheim did not respond positively to any of these invitations.”

Riot police deployed to quell protest10-03-2015

Riot police were deployed when hundreds of migrant workers employed by Emaar Properties, the developer of the Fountain Views project, staged a protest on 10 March 2015. Public protests are illegal in the UAE, and migrant workers do not have the right to go on strike. They were protesting principally over their very low basic salaries and the fact overtime had been stopped, preventing them from supplementing their low pay. Agreement was reached in just over an hour of negotiations and the protest was called off without any violence or arrests.

Police ends strike and deports migrant workers23-05-2013

Construction workers at the company Arabtec were striking to demand a 350 UAE dirham (92 US dollars) monthly food allowance to be paid with their salaries, rather than the three daily meals provided by the company. Workers earn 650 to 1,200 UAE dirham a month (from 177 to 327 US dollars). The company refused to negotiate with the workers and instead the Ministry of Labour sent the police to the labour camp to coerce workers to return to work. Even though management stated that all workers returned to work, several workers have stated that they received deportation orders.

Exploitation of migrant workers03-02-2012

Non-nationals account for over 88.5% of the population, and many of them are migrant workers. They are often prey to extreme exploitation: unpaid wages, excessively long working hours, passports confiscated by the employer, changes upon arrival to the contract they signed before leaving, etc. As domestic work is not covered by the labour legislation, domestic workers are even more vulnerable than migrants in other sectors. Many say they have suffered physical and sexual abuse, in addition to the exploitation migrants are usually exposed to.

As migrant workers do not have the right to join a union or go on strike, they don’t have the means to denounce the exploitation they suffer. Those who protest risk prison and deportation.

The pay protection system that has progressively been set in place since 2009 obliges companies to pay their workers’ wages via electronic bank transfer, that the authorities are able to verify. This measure has not been enough to prevent delays in the payment of wages however, notably because the Labour Ministry’s resources are far too meagre in face of the number of migrants.

A sponsorship system (“kafala”) continues to link migrant workers’ visas to an employer or “guarantor”, even though the terms were relaxed in 2011: at the end of a two year contract, the authorities allow unskilled workers to change job without a certificate of non-objection from their employer. The under-secretary at the Ministry of Labour has stated that if the clauses of the contract are breached, or if the worker is not paid, the Minister can end the contract.

Slow justice15-03-2011

In March the daily paper “The National” reported that 400 workers from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh living in workers’ accommodation in Al Faya in the desert to the east of Abu Dhabi, worked for up to ten months without being paid. Some just gave up and went home without receiving their money, complaining that it took months for the courts to deal with their case. Others were too frightened to complain, because their work visa had expired and they risked fines of up to 10,000 Dirhams (2,700 US dollars).

Children still used as jockeys28-02-2010

In February the NGO Anti-Slavery International again found that children, of barely 10 years of age, were being used as jockeys in a camel race in Abu Dhabi, even though the law bans the use of jockeys under 18. The children came from South Asia. Police officers and a high ranking member of the royal family attended the race.

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