The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking but did not demonstrate any new steps to dismantle the sponsorship system. Various government and quasi-government organizations held numerous training programs, organized lectures, and conducted workshops throughout the reporting period in an effort to raise awareness of trafficking among authorities and vulnerable populations. 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. During the year, a senior Emirati delegation participated in Bahrain’s inaugural Middle East anti-trafficking forum, and committed to regionally specific efforts to include reformation of the notorious kafala system. The government amplified awareness on trafficking through increased informational notices at airports, training courses for high-risk groups, and the dissemination of publications in various languages directed at the most at-risk communities, effectively reaching tens of thousands of individuals during the year. The campaigns raised awareness of penalties for trafficking and publicized hotlines for more information or direct assistance. Airport banners specifically targeted terminals based on nationalities with high workforce numbers in the UAE. The government educated passengers at Dubai International Airport (DXB) about trafficking through clips, broadcasts, flyers, and tactically-situated massive banners in nine prominent languages. Dubai Police, NCCHT, and DXB, in partnership with an international organization, launched a two-year campaign in July 2019 entitled “Don’t Turn a Blind Eye.” The campaign aimed to raise awareness of airport employees and travelers on how to detect trafficking crimes, given DXB remained one of the busiest international hubs in the world. Government shelter staff maintained a 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. DFWAC partnered with government-owned real estate developer Nakheel to run awareness campaigns at the developer’s shopping centers, particularly in its Dubai International City area, where many domestic workers resided and worked, to combat internal trafficking. Fujairah Police carried out anti-trafficking awareness campaigns via social media platforms and SMS functions. During the reporting year, local media ran a report on human trafficking, and presented numbers to call for help, including DFWAC and police in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Sharjah; the program also highlighted relevant UAE laws. Launched in April 2019 by Interior officials, the “Community Awareness” phone application promulgated information about a range of issues, including child protection, the duties of employers and employees, and trafficking in Arabic, Chinese, English, Filipino, Malay, and Urdu. Emirates Airlines, which is owned by the Dubai government, trained its cabin crewmembers and other airport ground staff on detecting instances of human trafficking at check-in and on flights. The government funded and ran a 24-hour toll-free hotline for reporting cases of trafficking, delayed wage payments, or other labor violations, which operated in Arabic, English, Hindi, Russian, Tagalog, 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. Analogous to the year prior, the government did not report how many trafficking or trafficking-related calls any hotline received during the reporting year.
The government implemented Federal Law No.10 of 2017 to improve the work conditions and welfare of domestic employees and adopted Cabinet Resolution No. 22 of 2019, which grants domestic workers the right to terminate their employment if an employer fails to meet contractual obligations or if the employee is subject to sexual harassment or physical or verbal abuse by the employer. However, the government did not strengthen 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.
MOHRE primarily oversaw, regulated, and enforced labor-related complaints. Efforts by MOHRE to combat forced labor across the UAE included an extensive labor inspection program that incorporated 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 regulation of 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 (96 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 in the previous reporting period 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. On trend with previous years, 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 not subjected to forced labor. 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. Workplace grievances 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. 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, rendered domestic workers vulnerable to exploitation. However, during the reporting period, officials successfully rolled out a trial phase of the WPS that included domestic worker salaries.
Officials continued to employ public-private partnership recruitment centers for domestic workers, known as “Tadbeer Centers,” mandated 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 as they were not generally able to enter or inspect private homes. There were 23 operational Tadbeer Centers across the UAE as of the end of the reporting period. The centers were integral to the movement of domestic worker recruitment from the Ministry of Interior to MOHRE, a change aimed at improving recruitment regulation and standards. In September 2019, the UAE and Government of the Philippines signed a trafficking-specific memorandum of understanding (MOU), which adopted procedures and created a joint taskforce to combat the crime as well as share best practices, exchange information, promote human rights, and provide assistance in the protection, repatriation, recovery, and rehabilitation of trafficking victims in accordance with domestic laws. In June 2019, the government signed several MOUs with labor sending countries to regulate recruitment mechanisms. The agreements with The Gambia, Nepal, and Pakistan outlined a recruitment mechanism that required designated ministries in said countries to review and approve a worker’s job offer before submission to the MOHRE, where an electronic copy was filed to prevent contract switching. These MOUs also facilitated the recruitment of domestic workers to the UAE solely through Tadbeer Centers. The UAE had other MOUs with Armenia, Australia, Azerbaijan, Indonesia, and Thailand. 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 acts in the UAE. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs maintained provision of workshops and awareness programs on human trafficking for its diplomatic personnel.