There is no established minimum wage. Salaries, which depended on the occupation and employer, were estimated at around 400 dirhams (approximately $110) per month for domestic or agricultural workers and 600 dirhams (approximately $164) per month for construction workers.
According to the labor law, the workday is eight hours and the work week six days. In practice, some service sector businesses did not provide employees paid annual holidays. Legal provisions requiring overtime pay and prohibition on excessive compulsory overtime exist. However, these provisions only apply to employees under the auspices of the Ministry of Labor and are not enforced. These provisions do not cover workers in domestic services, agriculture and other categories administered by the Ministry of Interior.
Domestic workers fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Interior and labor laws do not apply to them. The unregulated conditions of domestic workers left them vulnerable to long hours and underpayment.
The law requires employers to provide employees with a safe work and living environment; however, the government did not uniformly enforce health and safety standards during the year, although it did increase monitoring and enforcement of labor laws and regulations. Workers’ jobs were not protected if they removed themselves from what they considered to be unsafe working conditions. In 2010 the Ministry of Labor employed 450 labor inspectors. Inspections of workplaces--primarily construction sites--took place throughout the year, resulting in fines for employers who violated workplace safety or midday break rules. The ministry also employed language interpreters to assist foreign workers in understanding employment guidelines.
The law and regulations provide for minimum rest periods and limits hours worked depending on the nature of the work. The law mandates a 2.5-hour midday work break for most outdoor laborers between June 15 and September 15. The government routinely fined employers for violating the midday break rule and published compliance statistics. However, during July and August, the hottest months of the year, the government exempted oil, asphalt, and cement companies from following the law. In July local press reported that labor inspectors had visited 9,533 firms and had fined 34 firms for violations, reporting 99.7 percent compliance. In addition to being fined between 10,000 and 20,000 dirhams (approximately $2,725-5,450), offenders are barred from obtaining additional work permits for between six months and a year.
During the year the government began implementing changes to the labor code announced in December 2010 that eliminated the requirement that foreign workers who wanted to switch jobs obtain a letter of no objection from their employer. However, the change in regulation did not apply to day laborers, construction workers, or domestic servants.
In January the government amended the labor law to allow employees the option to work without an employment contract or, in cases in which a contract was in force, to change employer sponsors after a maximum of two years (and even within two years in certain cases) in certain employment categories for improved job mobility.
Foreign workers frequently did not receive their wages from employers on time, sometimes for extended periods. However, the government’s implementation of the Wages Protection System (an electronic salary verification system) and fines discouraged employers from not paying salaries to foreign workers under the auspices of the Ministry of Labor. According to a January 9 press report, at least 3.3 million workers received their wages via direct deposit through the Wages Protection System. The estimated 700,000 workers and 40 percent of companies not yet enrolled were reportedly small businesses. The Wages Protection System did not apply for foreign workers under the authority of the Ministry of Interior, including domestic and agricultural workers.
The Ministry of Labor operated a toll-free hotline in Arabic, English, and Urdu through which workers were able to report companies that violated break rules or delayed wage payments.
Despite the Ministry of Labor’s efforts to improve housing facilities, some low-skilled and foreign employees continued to face substandard living conditions, including overcrowded apartments or lodging in unsafe and unhygienic “labor camps,” which sometimes lacked electricity, potable water, and adequate cooking and bathing facilities. Construction of newer worker accommodations was ongoing. Individual emirates enforced their own standards for minimum conditions for labor accommodations.
Reports of migrant worker suicides continued, with reports linking the deaths to poor working conditions, abusive employers, and heavy debts caused by exploitative labor recruitment agencies, as well as by low wages relative to the high cost of living.
During the year the press reported a number of cases in which workers were injured or killed on job sites due to inadequate safety measures. Although the law requires the government to monitor job-related injuries and deaths, in practice the government registered the cases but did not consistently follow up on them, although there was at least one case of a significant court-ordered fine imposed for negligence.
In Abu Dhabi, stricter enforcement of labor safety standards, particularly in the construction industry, appeared to be having an effect on the number of safety violations.
Domestic workers routinely were subject to physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. There were reports that employers withheld the passports of their domestic workers; in some cases, they prevented workers from leaving the country. For example, on September 17, local press reported a Filipina housemaid fled her employers’ residence in Umm Al Quwain after she was beaten regularly, burned with a hot iron, and forced to work seven days a week without pay for three years.