There is no national minimum wage. There was very limited information on average domestic, agricultural, or construction worker salaries or on public sector salaries.
The law prescribes a 48-hour workweek and paid annual holidays. The law states daily working hours must not exceed eight hours in day or night shifts and provides for overtime pay to employees working more than eight hours in a 24-hour period, with the exception of those employed in trade, hotels, cafeterias, security, and other jobs as decided by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization.
Government occupational health and safety standards require that employers provide employees with a safe work and living environment, including minimum rest periods and limits on the number of hours worked, depending on the nature of the work. For example, the law mandates a two-and-one-half-hour midday work break, from 12:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m., between June 15 and September 15, for laborers who work in exposed open areas such as construction sites. In August government authorities informed companies they must make water, vitamins, supplements, and shelter available to all outdoor workers during the summer months to meet health and safety requirements. The government may exempt companies from the midday work break if the company cannot postpone the project for emergency or technical reasons. Such projects include laying asphalt or concrete and repairing damaged water pipes, gas lines, or electrical lines.
The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization was responsible for enforcing laws governing acceptable conditions of work for workers in professional, semiskilled, and, soon under Federal Law No. 10, domestic labor job categories, but did not do so in all sectors, including the informal sector. To monitor the private sector, the ministry had active departments for inspection, occupational safety, combating human trafficking, and wage protection. The ministry published statistics on its inspection and enforcement activities.
Workers in domestic services, agriculture, and other categories overseen by the Ministry of Interior come under a different regulatory regime. These workers are not covered by private and public sector labor law, but have some legal protections regarding working hours, overtime, timeliness of wage payments, paid leave, health care, and the provision of adequate housing; however, enforcement of these rules was often weak. As a result, these workers were more vulnerable to unacceptable work conditions.
There was no information available on the informal economy, legal enforcement within this sector, or an estimate of its size; however, anecdotal reports indicate it was common for individuals to enter the country on a nonwork visa and join the informal job sector. Sailors faced particular difficulty remedying grievances against employers. One consulate in Dubai reported that during the summer months it received distress calls from 97 sailors aboard 22 ships that had been abandoned by their respective companies in UAE waters. Complaints included unpaid salaries, harsh living conditions, no-sign offs or relief of duty after contract period ended, and lack of fuel, food, fresh water, and access to medical treatment. The media reported that by August, approximately 70 of the 97 stranded seafarers had been repatriated with cooperation between the consulate and the Federal Transport Authority.
The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization conducted inspections of labor camps and workplaces such as construction sites. The government also routinely fined employers for violating the midday break rule and published compliance statistics.
The government took action to address wage payment issues. Its implementation of the WPS and fines for noncompliance discouraged employers from withholding salaries to foreign workers under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization. The WPS, an electronic salary transfer system, requires institutions to pay workers via approved banks, exchange bureaus, and other financial institutions, to assure timely and full payment of agreed wages. The ministry monitored these payments electronically. The WPS, however, did not apply to foreign workers under the authority of the Ministry of Interior, such as domestic and agricultural workers.
The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization conducted site visits to monitor the payment of overtime. Violations resulted in fines and in many cases a suspension of permits to hire new workers.
The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization continued efforts to ensure adequate health standards and safe food and facilities in labor camps. It conducted regular inspections of health and living conditions at labor camps, stated that it issued written documentation on problems needing correction and reviewed them in subsequent inspections. Nevertheless, some low-wage foreign workers faced substandard living conditions, including overcrowded apartments or unsafe and unhygienic lodging in labor camps. In some cases, the ministry cancelled hiring permits for companies that failed to provide adequate housing. During some inspections of labor camps, the ministry employed interpreters to assist foreign workers in understanding employment guidelines. The ministry operated a toll-free hotline in Arabic, English, Hindi, Urdu, Tagalog, and other languages spoken by foreign residents through which workers were able to report delayed wage payments or other violations. The ministry’s mobile van units also visited some labor camps to inform workers of their rights. The General Directorate of Residency and Foreign Affairs Dubai Office created the Taqdeer Award program, which rewards companies based on labor practices and grants them priority for government contracts.
The government-instituted revised standard contract for domestic workers aimed to protect domestic workers through a binding agreement between employers and domestic workers. The contract provides for transparency and legal protections concerning issues such as working hours, time-off, overtime, health care, and housing. Officials from some originating countries criticized the process, saying it prevented foreign embassies from reviewing and approving the labor contracts of their citizens. As a result some countries attempted to halt their citizens’ travel to the UAE to assume domestic labor positions. Many still enter on visit visas, however, and then adjust status.
The government allowed foreign workers to switch jobs without a letter of permission from their employer. Labor regulations provide foreign employees the option to work without an employment contract or, in cases in which a contract was in force, to change employer sponsors after two years as well as within the first two years within the terms of the contract. The government designed this regulation to improve job mobility and reduce the vulnerability of foreign workers to abuse. The regulation, however, did not apply to agricultural or domestic workers.
Government-supported NGO EHRA promoted worker rights. It conducted unannounced visits to labor camps and work sites to monitor conditions and reported violations to the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization.
There were cases in which workers were injured or killed on job sites; however, authorities typically did not disclose details of workplace injuries and deaths, including the adequacy of safety measures. The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization routinely conducted health and safety site visits. In January the ministry mandated that companies with over 15 employees submit labor injuries reports. Dubai emirate required construction companies and industrial firms to appoint safety officers accredited by authorized entities to promote greater site safety. In April, 42 foreign nationals required assistance from their consulate after a labor agency withheld over two months of back pay. The workers had been suspended from their jobs because of a dispute over an injured worker’s medical treatment.
Reports of migrant worker suicides or attempted suicides continued. In some cases, observers linked the suicides to poor working and living conditions, low wages, and/or financial strain caused by heavy debts owed to originating-country labor recruitment agencies. According to the Ugandan Embassy, as of October, 31 of 45 registered Ugandan deaths in the UAE were attributed to suicide. Among those who committed suicide were 13 security guards and 12 housemaids. The Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, a quasi-governmental organization, conducted vocational training programs with some elements aimed at decreasing suicidal behavior.