The government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking. It 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. The NCCHT met four times during the year. In January, the government restructured the NCCHT under the leadership of the Minister of Justice. The government made efforts to prevent forced labor primarily through labor regulatory and monitoring mechanisms, including labor inspection programs that incorporated routine and unannounced inspections of company housing and work sites by a team of full-time labor inspectors and seven dedicated anti-trafficking inspectors. If a company was found to have violated the labor law following an inspection, the government could fine the company or curtail its ability to operate or hire additional workers. Furthermore, the government reported individuals found to have engaged in fraud that led to forced labor could face jail time. During the year, the NCCHT reported MOHRE conducted 354,902 inspection visits but, as in previous years, did not report how many labor law violations were identified or if any were referred for further investigation or criminal prosecution as a potential trafficking case. MOHRE also continued to oversee, regulate, and enforce labor-related complaints; however, authorities generally dealt with labor law violations administratively and 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; for example, in July 2021, MOHRE’s Supreme Arbitration Committee for Collective Labor Disputes settled 22 collective labor disputes for 18,670 workers amounting to 300.6 million Emirati dirhams ($81.84 million). The government did not report how many complaints it received from workers, employers, or recruitment agencies during the year or the nature of those complaints.
The government’s WPS required and monitored electronic salary payments for private sector workers 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 alerted officials to delayed salary payments of more than 60 days or payments that were less than contractually agreed upon, and after a period of 15 days, authorities administered fines and other enforcement actions. MOHRE reported that letters were issued to companies and sent to the Public Prosecutor for WPS violations; MOHRE also reported that cases were only dropped when the missing wages were paid and the company was up to date with all salary payments. Although the NCCHT reported the government fined 3,050 companies that failed to provide payments to workers via the WPS in 2021, for the 14th consecutive year, 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 or if any such complaints were criminally investigated as potential trafficking crimes. However, Ministerial Resolution No. 43 of 2022 introduced new penalties on non- compliant companies and employers, including suspending their ability to issue new work permits, increased inspections, and a 1,000 Emirati dirham ($270) fine imposed for each worker. The government reported that through this resolution, continued violations resulted in referral to the Public Prosecutor’s Office; during 2021, 2,051 non-compliant companies were referred to judicial authorities for violating the WPS. Media and diplomatic sources continued to report that 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. Furthermore, domestic worker salaries were not required to be paid via the WPS; this, coupled with the lack of legal provisions requiring inspections of domestic worker accommodations, wage payment, and work hours, heightened domestic workers’ vulnerability to exploitation. The government continued its pilot program from a previous reporting period through MOHRE’s agreement with First Abu Dhabi Bank to incorporate domestic workers into the WPS. The NCCHT reported that the pilot program integrated 16,771 domestic workers at the close of the reporting period, a significant increase compared with 423 domestic workers enrolled at the close of the previous reporting period. The NCCHT reported that although the enrollment of domestic workers under the WPS was currently voluntary, the renewal of domestic worker permits will make enrollment mandatory, with the intent that all domestic workers will be integrated under the WPS in 2022.
Since 2017, the government has issued Tadbeer licenses to private recruitment agencies to recruit domestic workers to the Emirates. Agencies with Tadbeer licenses were mandated to provide training to recruited workers, educate them on their legal rights, resolve employee- employer disputes, and verify worker accommodations for compliance with domestic worker law minimum standards. Each licensed agency was equipped with a room solely for grievance mediation with a video connection to MOHRE for official oversight. Officials also reported when a dispute occurred between a domestic worker and employer, the worker could approach the Tadbeer-licensed agency for assistance instead of fleeing their employer, which rendered a worker undocumented and vulnerable to exploitation. However, Tadbeer-licensed agencies could not enter or inspect private homes, which made verification of worker accommodations and other protections outlined in the law difficult to obtain. Since 2019, MOHRE had mandated licensed agencies cover the cost of employer recruitment fees for domestic workers through an insurance policy with a two-year warranty; this policy aimed at ensuring recruitment fees would not be transferred to domestic workers from employers once they arrived in the UAE. In certain circumstances where a domestic worker terminated employment, employers were entitled to a full refund of the recruitment fees, which the licensed agency would cover. However, observers noted this insurance policy did not protect workers from fees they incurred from both legal and unregulated recruiters in their home country. Despite the expansion of agencies with Tadbeer licenses, the expensive costs to obtain a license—coupled with mandated insurance requirements to cover recruitment costs— disincentivized some private recruitment agencies from obtaining a Tadbeer certification. Furthermore, non-Tadbeer-licensed recruitment agencies remained popular as their services were viewed as cheaper and more flexible and accessible compared with Tadbeer-licensed agencies. However, as these agencies were not strictly regulated, many continued to be accused of violating labor and immigration laws and failing to guarantee the rights of workers and employers.
NGOs continued to raise concerns about the ease with which tourist visas could be converted into work visas for domestic workers looking to circumvent their home countries’ recruitment ban in the UAE—a practice that exacerbated the risk of trafficking for these workers, as they often paid fees to recruitment agencies in both their home countries and in the UAE and had no protection under UAE law when they arrived on tourist visas. Furthermore, some workers were unable to switch their visas to employment visas and so continued to work illegally, heightening their vulnerability to exploitation. In the previous reporting period, in a purported effort to address this practice and solely use Tadbeer-licensed agencies for the recruitment and regulation of all domestic workers, MOHRE mandated the closure of 250 non-Tadbeer-licensed recruitment agencies in January 2021; agencies had the option to obtain a Tadbeer license, switch to another sector or shut down by March 2021. MOHRE reported, as of March 2021, citizens and residents would be required to hire domestic workers only through Tadbeer-licensed agencies. At the close of the reporting period, 68 Tadbeer-licensed agencies were operational across the Emirates, an increase from the 56 agencies that were operational at the end of the previous reporting period. Nonetheless, despite authorities mandating all hiring be conducted through the Tadbeer system, many UAE households continued to employ domestic workers directly or through other recruitment agencies, further increasing the vulnerability of domestic workers to exploitation and trafficking without protection under the law.
Federal Law No. 10 of 2017 provided additional protections for domestic workers, as well as regulations for recruitment agencies and employers of such workers, including those pertaining to hiring practices, working conditions, and employment contracts. Federal Law No. 10 also protected domestic workers’ rights to retain their own identity documents but did not stipulate penalties for employers who confiscated workers’ passports. Cabinet Resolution No. 22 of 2019 granted domestic workers the right to terminate their employment if an employer failed to meet contractual obligations, such as payment of wages, or if the employee was subject to sexual harassment or physical or verbal abuse by the employer; in these cases, a Tadbeer-licensed recruitment agency was required to provide shelter to the domestic worker. The government did not strengthen regulatory enforcement of in-home inspections and workplace grievance resolutions. In addition, legal barriers against government interference with private households continued to hamper monitoring and enforcement efforts of these laws relevant to domestic workers. Cabinet Resolution No. 22 included the right for employees to retain personal documents, sign standardized contracts with 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 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 fine between 10,000 and 100,000 Emirati dirhams ($2,720 to $27,230).
Private sector workers were granted the freedom to leave and switch employers at any time without employer approval through Ministerial Decrees No. 765 and 766 of 2015; however, this decision included the requirement that the worker had to provide between one month and three-months’ notice, depending on the initial contract terms, to leave an employer. In addition, workers had to physically possess their passport to leave the country or switch employers. Because the government did not enforce a prohibition on employers confiscating workers’ passports, this practice remained pervasive and may have left some workers vulnerable to exploitation and potentially trafficking. The government reported that if an employer withheld a worker’s passport, the worker could contact MOHRE’s hotline where a legal advisor would speak to both parties and explain the worker’s legal rights—including the prohibition of retention of identity documents; if the problem could not be resolved through arbitration, the case was referred to the labor courts. According to the NCCHT, 465,557 workers changed employers during 2021. As with domestic workers, in instances where a private sector worker faced physical or verbal abuse or sexual harassment, the worker had the freedom to leave the employer without notice. All workers were able to terminate employment at any time in the absence of abuse or a contractual breach but may be required to forego certain benefits including end of service gratuity and a return ticket to their home country. In those instances, a domestic worker may have had to pay their employer compensation equal to one month’s wages and other entitlements deemed necessary by a court. In such instances, MOHRE could issue the domestic worker a new work permit to move to a new employer, and the worker was not subject to immediate deportation to ensure the worker had sufficient time to find a new job. Most workers chose to remain in the UAE to work for another employer under a new work permit or contract after terminating their previous employment. In February 2022, the government passed a revised private sector labor law under Federal Law No. 33 of 2021 that replaced Federal Law No. 8 of 1980, the previous private sector law, in its entirety. This law does not apply to domestic workers; however, it does outline new requirements for termination of a contract for both the employer and employee during and after the probationary period concludes. For example, if a worker wants to terminate a contract during the probationary period, the worker must give one month’s notice if they want to change employers in the UAE or 14 days’ notice if the worker wants to leave the country; the employer must also provide 14 days’ notice to the worker if they plan to terminate the contract during that period. Notably, if a worker or employer terminated the contract, under the new law, the worker has 180 days to find a new job, compared with 30 days under the previous labor law, without incurring overstay fines or becoming undocumented. Furthermore, the new law prohibited discrimination of any form in the workplace, provided new flexible employment options, and introduced explicit prohibitions against forced labor, which previously only existed in the anti-trafficking law.
The government continued to post informational anti-trafficking notices at airports, implement training courses for high-risk groups, and disseminate publications in various languages directed at the most at-risk communities, reaching almost two million individuals during the year. The campaigns also raised awareness of penalties for trafficking and publicized hotlines. Airport banners specifically targeted terminals based on nationalities with high workforce numbers in the UAE. Relevant authorities, including the MOI, Dubai Police, and MOHRE, held a series of lectures and training programs in workers’ residences and in recruiting offices to raise awareness on the types of trafficking crimes and ways to communicate with law enforcement authorities and shelters. The MOI conducted four different campaigns aimed at approximately 300 domestic workers and hotel workers; domestic-worker campaigns focused on raising awareness of their rights and the anti-trafficking law while the campaign for hotel workers explained indicators of trafficking. MOHRE continued to conduct lectures on the labor law and trainings on human rights and human trafficking issues to workers; it also began publishing a magazine aimed in part at raising awareness for workers on different labor issues. The PPO led a public campaign on social media on the anti-trafficking law and further explained “force” as an element of the crime, specifically in the context of forced begging.
During the reporting period, the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children (DFWAC) provided information on human trafficking in five different languages through lectures, leaflets, and podcasts aimed at employees in the retail sector and for staff and students at local universities; in addition, it provided lectures and trainings to foreign embassies on trafficking and services available for victims. The Aman Shelter for Women and Children continued its campaign titled “No to Human Trafficking,” scheduled to continue through 2025; the campaign used leaflets and public meetings to raise awareness of the crime. The shelter also targeted workers in beauty salons and spas to raise awareness of labor rights and trafficking indicators. In December 2021, shelter staff launched an interactive art display at the Dubai Expo; artists worked with two trafficking survivors to develop the installation, which featured audio commentary narrating the victims’ experiences. Additionally, the Abu Dhabi Police worked with media outlets to warn job seekers about fraudulent internet employment ads that emerged as a result of increased unemployment due to the pandemic and cautioned laid-off workers to be cognizant of fraudulent job offers that charged recruitment fees, an illegal practice in UAE. 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, Russian, and Urdu. Calls were categorized and automatically alerted police in suspected trafficking cases. Additionally, MOHRE, MOI, and DFWAC had dedicated multilingual toll-free hotlines; MOI continued to host a mobile phone application that allowed users to access certain police services on their phones, and victims of trafficking or witnesses to the crime could use the application to file reports as well. In Dubai, law enforcement authorities ran a separate line, and UAE-wide there remained a 24-hour toll-free number for migrant workers to vocalize complaints or general inquiries. Analogous to previous years, the government did not report how many trafficking or trafficking-related calls any hotline received, how many victims were identified, or how many investigations were initiated during the reporting year.
In November 2021, in coordination with an international organization, the government hosted the “Inter-regional Meeting on Combating Trafficking by Air” to discuss challenges in detecting, investigating, and prosecuting trafficking cases where victims traveled to their destination and location of exploitation through commercial airlines; representatives from the region and East Africa participated, including airport law enforcement officers and staff from specialized trafficking police and prosecutions units. In the previous reporting period, the government announced a partnership between the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and the African Union to pilot and implement an orientation program for Gulf-bound workers from Africa; however, during the current reporting period, the government reported that all three stakeholders placed the program on hold due to the pandemic. The government continued to utilize its trafficking-related memoranda of understanding with Armenia, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, The Gambia, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sierra Leone, Thailand, Uganda, and Vietnam to regulate recruitment mechanisms and prevent contract switching. 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.