The government continued efforts to prevent trafficking. Overall, the NCCHT reported in 2018 it spearheaded and funded various anti-trafficking awareness campaigns that reached approximately 217,269 laborers, 23,400 members of the general public, 1,371 government employees, 80 students, and 20 foreign diplomats. The government continued to carry out its national action plan to address trafficking, driven chiefly by the NCCHT. The plan focused on prevention, protection, prosecution, punishment, promotion of international cooperation, redress, rehabilitation, reintegration, and capacity building. Government shelter staff maintained its partnership with art galleries for visual art exhibits that showcased art made by trafficking victims, to both increase awareness and raise funds for other victims. The government disseminated anti-trafficking awareness publications in 14 languages, which targeted at-risk communities and reached an unknown number of vulnerable people. It installed informational noticeboards at airports across the UAE targeting specific terminals based upon nationalities, and utilized radio broadcasting to increase general awareness on trafficking risks. Dubai Police and other government representatives commenced the fifth phase of its five-year anti-trafficking awareness plan to coincide with the UN World Day against Trafficking in Persons. This campaign focused on educating employees at two malls, various beauty salons, and other retail stores by the distribution of thousands of leaflets. The campaign also reached 53 domestic worker recruitment offices in Dubai and the staff of these offices in the respective source countries—Indonesia, the Philippines, Bangladesh, and Ethiopia. Furthermore, officials sponsored 10 lectures on the prevention of trafficking and leveraged popular social media platforms and multilingual radio broadcasts to spread awareness. The Dubai and Abu Dhabi police forces tandemly facilitated numerous workshops and training courses during the reporting period, reaching an unknown number of personnel. Additionally, the Dubai police organized and hosted a read-in training day, which aimed to promulgate knowledge on how to combat trafficking and treat victims; this event reached affiliates from various entities including police, human rights associations, housing and shelter institutions, and other relevant government agencies. In 2018, relevant ministry and law enforcement officials held a series of lectures and training programs in workers’ residences and recruitment offices to raise awareness about types of trafficking crimes and best practices for coordinating with law enforcement personnel and shelter staff. During the year, the public prosecutor’s office used social media platforms to disseminate information regarding definitional elements of trafficking. The government funded and ran a 24-hour hotline for reporting cases of trafficking, which operated in Arabic, English, Russian, and Urdu. Calls were categorized and automatically alerted police in suspected trafficking cases. In Dubai, authorities ran a separate line, and UAE-wide there remained a 24-hour toll-free number for migrant laborers to vocalize workplace complaints or general inquiries. The government did not report how many trafficking or trafficking-related calls any hotline received during the reporting year.
The treatment of domestic workers, primarily maids and nannies, remained a significant concern during the reporting period. Reports suggested passport withholding, unpaid overtime, lack of time off, and failure to pay agreed-upon wages continued to be prevalent practices among employers. The government did not fully implement Federal Law No.10 of 2017 to improve the work conditions and welfare of domestic employees, particularly as it pertained to regulatory enforcement of in-home inspections and workplace grievance resolution. In addition, sociocultural and legal barriers against government interference with private households continued to hamper monitoring and enforcement efforts of its domestic worker law. This law included the right for employees to retain personal documents, sign standardized contracts with unequivocally designated working conditions, access specialized tribunals for settling workplace grievances, and observe mandatory time off. It also stipulated in-home inspections on the basis of complaints or reasonable evidence of law violations. Under the law’s provisions, a recruitment agency or person who hindered law enforcement, anyone who disclosed information unveiled in an investigation, or anyone who facilitated the abandonment of a domestic worker may be jailed for a minimum of six months and ordered to pay a 10,000 to 100,000 AED ($2,720 to $27,230) fine. However, implementing regulations remained under development for the second consecutive year.
The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization (MOHRE) primarily oversaw, regulated, and enforced labor-related complaints. Efforts by the MOHRE to combat forced labor practices across the UAE included an extensive labor inspection program including routine and unannounced inspections of housing and work sites by a team of full-time labor inspectors, in addition to seven dedicated anti-trafficking inspectors. Authorities usually dealt with labor law violations administratively and did not report investigating such cases for trafficking indicators or referring any for criminal prosecution. The government continued its monitoring and inspection program for private sector laborers, including through the Wage Protection System (WPS), which electronically monitored salary payments via vetted banks, currency exchanges, and financial institutions for all onshore companies employing more than 100 workers (95 percent of the private sector workforce). The WPS automatically flagged delayed salary payments of more than 60 days, or payments that were less than contractually agreed upon, and after a designated period, authorities administered fines and other enforcement actions, including criminal proceedings, after an unknown number of labor-related inspections. However, a local news investigation estimated that almost 50 percent of all small private construction and transport companies circumvented the WPS to pay workers only 60 percent of their contractual salaries. Media and diplomatic sources reported some companies retained workers’ bank cards or accompanied workers to withdraw cash, coercively shortchanging the employees even though the WPS showed the proper amount paid. Such cases were difficult to prove in labor courts, given the WPS documented accurate payments via designated bank accounts. The government did not report the number of complaints of unpaid wages it investigated as a result of its dispute resolution process or the WPS, which were intended to ensure workers were paid according to their contracts, and if employers were punished with administrative and financial penalties for compliance failure; it also did not report investigating such cases for trafficking indicators or referring any for criminal prosecution. Workers filed thousands of labor complaints through government-operated smartphone applications, telephone hotlines, websites, email, and formally with MOHRE offices and mobile units; violations routinely resulted in fines, suspended permits to hire new workers, or the cancellation of business licenses, though the official number of these punishments was unknown. However, domestic worker salaries were not required to be paid via the WPS and, coupled with cultural norms and the lack of legal provisions requiring inspections of domestic worker accommodations, wage payment and work hour abuses, among other acts indicative of forced labor, continued and left domestic workers at risk of exploitation. Officials continued to employ its public-private partnership recruitment centers for domestic workers, known as “Tadbeer Centers,” which held the mandate to regulate the recruitment and training of domestic workers, educate them on their legal rights, resolve employer-employee disputes, and verify worker accommodations for compliance with domestic worker law minimum standards. Each center was equipped with a room solely for grievance mediation, with a video connection to MOHRE for official oversight. In practice, however, these centers were inhibited since they were not permitted to enter or inspect private homes. The government had in place MOUs with Thailand, Armenia, Australia, Azerbaijan, Indonesia, and India. The government did not enforce a prohibition on employers withholding workers’ passports, which remained a pervasive problem. The government did not take measures to reduce the demand for commercial sex in the UAE. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs maintained provision of workshops and awareness programs on human trafficking for its diplomatic personnel.