The United Arab Emirates is all set to enforce new labour laws starting 1 January aimed at curbing abuse and protecting the rights of foreign workers, who often face exploitation at the hands of employers. A key reform will allow workers to terminate contracts if terms of employment are changed without employees' consent, and also accept other jobs.
The reforms seek to curb the "kafala" system, which does not allow foreign workers to return home or change jobs without the express consent of their sponsors. The employment offer must also contain a clause that bars employers from holding onto the identity papers of his employees.
The labour reforms contained in three decrees were announced by Saqr Ghobash, Minister of Labour, who said: "The issue isn't about the legal system itself. But it's about some of the practices that have been associated with it." He added: "We want to close the door on those who trick the simple worker."
"The new ministerial orders will minimise and eliminate misuse by employers filing absconding cases with mala fide intentions against the employees," Ashish Mehta, founder and managing partner of Ashish Mehta & Associates told Khaleej Times.
Under the new laws, offer letters will be legally binding and details regarding pay, job role, designation, hours of work, and other terms of employment in the offer letter must be issued in the employee's language, and cannot be changed after the arrival of the worker in the UAE.
The Arab Gulf countries have been in the media spotlight numerous times for violating the rights of foreign workers. International human rights groups too have repeatedly criticised it for the same issue. Recently, Qatar was in the media spotlight for abusing its foreign workers, who are working on projects related to the Fifa World Cup, which the country is set to host in 2022. The labour ministry oversees 4.5 million foreign workers but does not handle the cases of millions of domestic workers from abroad.