In a comprehensive interview during which he answered a wide range of questions on current conditions in the labour market, prospects for the future and improving the institutional performance of MOL
Protecting workers’ rights and upholding employers’ legitimate interests are longstanding tenants of MOL policy and practice
Proposed amendments to the Labour Law incentivize UAE nationals to join the private sector
We seek a better skill mix in our labour market in support of Emiratization
A standard employment contract soon to be announced adds transparency to the contracting process
Recent mobility rules contributed to a 10% increase in the average wage of transferring workers
9.2% of permits issued in 2014 were for skilled workers, up from 7.8 in 2012
Recent mobility rules contributed to a 10% increase in the average wage of transferring workers
Disseminating a culture of excellence and improving quality of service and organizational performance
A total of 390 establishments referred to the Prosecutor’s office for employing undocumented workers and failure to pay wages
“Tasheel”, a successful model of partnership with the private sector that provides quality customer service and contributing to Emiratization
We’re making strides towards stability in the labour market and improved productivity, in line with Vision 2021
Our relations with international organizations conforms with the UAE’s tradition of constructive engagement with the international community
We administer our labour market with full transparency and deal firmly with rights violation.
Labour Minister Saqr Ghobash said that the protection of workers’ rights and upholding the legitimate interests of business owners in accordance with the law are longstanding principles that are enshrined in Ministry of Labour (MOL) literature and tenants of its policy and practices. Asserted Ghobash affirmed that MOL administers the labour market with utmost transparency and deals firmly and effectively with rights violations when they occur.
In a wide-ranging exclusive interview with ‘Al’Amal’, Ghobash said that MOL has proposed amendments to the Labour Law that are currently the subject of consultation with the competent authorities. These amendments promote greater participation by UAE nationals in broader labour market by narrowing the gap in the conditions of work between the public and private sectors.
The use of a new standard employment contract that ensures a greater measure of transparency in the contracting process is soon to be mandated. And in a first assessment of the impact of new rules on workers’ mobility that went into effect in early 2011, a study has concluded that the wage of transferred workers increased by an average of 10%.
Ghobash went on to describe the TASHEEL service centers as a model of public-private sector partnership that has yielded quality customer service and contributed to Emiratization.
“Certain international reports on labour conditions in the UAE are based on deficient information and do not reflect reality” he said. “Often, anecdotal evidence and particular cases in which labour standards are not up to our federal standards are used to make unsubstantiated generalizations”.
The Magazine’s first issue, which is routinely published under (Al A’mal) title, offers a variety of topics relating to UAE's efforts in combating human-trafficking and forced labour.
Correspondingly, the 1st issue highlights in a special interview the personal achievements completed by a local employee working in (Tas’heel) service center, then throughout the pages, reader will enjoy a human-interest feature about a construction worker who came to UAE leaving back his wife and kids and how his employment has positively affected his family back home plus developed his technical capabilities. Other topics are underlined as well, such as reports that monitor initiatives relating to the labour market to be implemented within 2015, in addition to focuses connected to excellence and administrative development.
Below is the text of the interview with H.E. the Minister:
Your Excellency, the Ministry is seen as giving increased attention lately to improving organizational performance and developing a culture of excellence. How does impact the ability of MOL to better administer the labour market?
There is, of course, a close correlation between our institutional efficiency and our ability to perform our tasks and discharge our responsibilities. The better our performance is as an organization, the larger the impact of our work in pursuing our visions mission and strategic goals.
Hence, we need to pay more attention to our institutional development and promote a culture of quality and excellence by adopting performance standards, ensuring accountability and continuously developing human resources. We must, at the same time, create and sustain a work environment that promotes creativity and healthy competition. This is why we launched four years ago an institutional excellence award program that was inspired by the HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Government Excellence Award, an initiative that had a discernable impact on the performance of government institutions as a whole.
The fourth cycle of the MOL’s Excellence Award program was recently re-named “The Minister of Labour’s Excellence Award”. What impact did that have?
Changing the title of the award had been suggested by the ministry’s senior leadership and reflected my own desire to project personal commitment to organizational excellence and promote creativity within the context of team work across the ministry’s organizational units. It illustrates my commitment to empowering the staff of MOL to excel.
I wish to emphasize that our drive to excel as ministry of labour would not have been possible without the strong commitment and support by the country’s leadership as it pursues an ambitious vision of excellence in government and all sectors of our society.
How do you assess the relation of the ministry and the level and nature of its coordination and partnership with other relevant government agencies?
There is, of course, close coordination and strategic partnership between the Ministry of Labour and many other government entities. This empowers us to implement our own strategic plans and administer the labour market in a manner that leverages the complementarity of roles and jurisdictions. At the ministry of labour, we value these partnerships and work constantly to upgrade them. For example, we work closely with the Interior Ministry to provide a number of services as well as to conduct inspection activities and labour awareness campaigns. Similarly, the Ministry of Presidential Affairs is our strategic partner in the implementation of the "Discounts and Special Offers Program for Nationals Working in the Private Sector Program," which is incorporated into His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE's initiative "Absher". The program is led by the Ministry of Presidential Affairs and implemented by the Ministry of Labour as the competent authority in administering the labour market.
I should also note our partnership with the judicial system that streamlines labour disputes which could not be resolved amicably through arbitration by the labour office and with the Public Prosecutor’s Office to which MOL referred more than 390 firms that were alleged to be in violation of the law in the first 9 months of 2014. Cases included non-payment of wages for more than two months, employment violations, labourers found working for other firms, unlawful employment, relinquishing workers without reporting to MOL and other types of violations.
Additionally, we partner with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in coordinating international activities and actions that safeguard the reputation of the UAE and enhance its standing in international forums, and many other federal and local government agencies.
What about partnership with the private sector?
The private sector is clearly a key engine of economic development and, hence, a strategic partner of the Ministry. We give utmost importance to empowering the private sector and upholding its rights and interests in the same way we act to protect workers' rights.
The ‘Tasheel’ service centers serve as a model of a successful public-private partnership that helped create investment opportunities and employment opportunities for UAE business owners and UAE job seekers, respectively. The number of MOL-licensed centers now stands at 40, employing more than 900 UAE nationals and thus contributing to the Government’s efforts to promote Emiratisation in the private sector.
Furthermore, these centers offered the opportunity to make the ministry’s services available to the public in accordance with the highest standards of customer service set by the UAE government, in view of the high level of competence that was exhibited by UAE nationals employed by these centers. We look forward to expand this successful model of partnership as we implement the recently issued rules on the licensing of new centers and incentivize compliance by old and new centers with directives set forth in the recent ministerial decree.
This experiment, has allowed us at the Ministry to focus on our core business of formulating policy and monitoring the labour market, given that we administer a market of over 4 million workers and 300,000 registered business establishments with a staff of roughly 1,200 employees.
What are the objectives of these new regulations that you mentioned?
The new regulations will further raise the mandated standards of services offered by Tasheel centers as these increasingly become a principle channel for providing MOL customer service.
They aim to carefully expand the number and locations of service providers, subject to compliance with a set of operating standards and rules that will, in addition to upgrading the portfolio of offered services, create a decent and stable work environment that is attractive to UAE nationals.
You alluded to formulation of labour market policies and to better administration of the market. How do you assess the development of the UAE labour market to date and how do you see it developing in the future?
We must recognize first that labour market policies during the past decades focused on securing the manpower that was required for, primarily, infrastructural development, that is securing the supply of labour to the construction, service and associated sectors. Job creation was skewed to sectors of our economy that were characterized by deflated wages and working conditions that did not appeal to our increasingly educated and qualified national human resources, who opted instead for public sector employment. Over time, we witnessed the development of two parallel and distinct labour markets with large gaps in their respective wage structures and conditions of work, with UAE nationals overwhelmingly employed in government.
More recently, our Government articulated and adopted a vision for the future of our country that became the frame of reference for the overall strategic planning of the federal government during the two strategic planning cycles of 2011 – 2013 and 2014 - 2016. In pursuit of this vision, our policy making became focused on supporting the transformation of our national economy to one that is “competitive, knowledge-based and led by qualified and skilled Emiratis”. In other words, the UAE Vision 2021, which was articulated by His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE, and launched in 2010 by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai necessitated that we focus on creating conditions for a stable labour market in which a qualified and productive workforce contributes to a competitive knowledge-based economy and our nationals are empowered to access suitable private sector job opportunities in positions of leadership, supported by talent from abroad to complement our qualified labour pool.
In the last four years, you introduced several new regulations, notably new rules on labour mobility (job transfers). How do you assess the impact of these new rules?
The updated regulation of mobility introduced in early 2011 paved the way for increased flexibility in our labour market. It allowed workers to transfer from one employer to another subject to certain rules and conditions. These rules were designed with the interests of both workers and employers in mind, as they addressed the respective rights and obligations of both parties as set in the employment contract, the benefits of defining clear paths for workers to alternative employment without prejudice to the legitimate interests of employers and ways to afford employers the ability to access a pool of previously employed, better qualified workers in the local market. By facilitating a more efficient matching between workers and job offers, workers improve their earning potentials while employers are able to leverage higher labour productivity and encouraged to seek only better qualified and higher-skilled workers from overseas.
This also creates the conditions for balanced and stable labour relations by incentivizing both sides to live up to their contractual obligations and act to prolong a successful employment relation.
A study of the impact of the new mobility rules, conducted by a group of academics from prominent international universities concluded that the average wages of transferred workers increased by 10%. It is likely that their employers also enjoyed an increase in labour productivity that more than justified the increase in wages.
Moreover, statistics relevant to work permits issued since the new mobility rules were implemented show that we are on the right track, as the number of permits for specialized (high-skill) professions issued by the Ministry of Labour during 2014 increased to 9.2 per cent from 7.8 per cent in 2012 and 6.9 per cent in 2010.
At the same time, the total number of temporary work permits issued during the past year was 22,249 permits, which represents an increase of 10.3 per cent compared to the previous year and 41.3 per cent more compared to 2011, while the number of part-time work permits issued in 2014 year reached 8504 permits, an increase of 25.3 per cent over 2013 and an increase of 213.9 per cent from 2012.
Excellency, you asserted that the new mobility rules afford workers the basic right to change jobs; what about other labour rights?
The UAE has a long standing commitment to protecting workers’ rights as well as upholding the interests and rights of employers, consistent with the rule of law.
One example of how we uphold the law is the application of the Wage protection System (WPS). WPS has greatly contributed to stability in the labour market and to balanced and improved relations between workers and employers. As it guarantees the workers their right to obtain their salary in full and on time, the system also allows business owners to pay their dues in easier and more innovative ways. Presently, more than 3.5 million workers benefit from WPS and more than 273,500 enterprises have formally subscribed to it.
Federal standards for labour accommodation facilities offer another example of protection, as they provide for decent living conditions and basic amenities for workers in the UAE. So do several initiatives by MOL to offer employers alternative means of utilizing qualified workers such as allowing temporary and/or part time work subject to a set of conditions that are designed to protect the rights of both parties. Rigorous standards of safety and health, alternative channels for dispute resolution including facilitated access to the courts, enhanced inspection capacity and activities to monitor compliance with the law and regulations, all contribute to the protection of workers and better labour relations.
During religious and national holidays, criticism is voiced against MOL by private sector employees, asking that they be allowed to enjoy the same number of days off as do their counterparts in government. How do you answer such criticism?
Official holidays in the private sector are governed and regulated by the Labour Law. Hence, what is contained in ministerial decrees strictly complies with what is set by the law, namely one day for each the Hijri and Miladi New Years, the Birth of the Profit (PBUH), Al-Isra’ Wal Me’raj and the UAE National Day, three days for Eid Al-Adha and two for Eid Al Fitr.
This leads us to a question about amendments to the Labour Law. Where do these amendments stand?
We have completed a comprehensive draft revision of the Labour law and it is currently subject to discussions with our government partners and the competent authorities in preparation for submitting it to the Cabinet for further action.
What is the nature of these proposed amendments?
Without getting into details, as the draft document is still under discussion within the government, I can say that a key objective of the proposed amendments is to ensure and encourage a larger participation by UAE nationals in the labour market by way of provisions in the law that narrow the gaps in working conditions between the public and private sectors.
Aside from amendments to the Labour Law, is MOL planning to launch new initiatives or announce new policies in the near future?
We are well on our way to implement our strategic plan through 2016 tby way of a number of initiatives that help achieve our stated strategic goals. The latter revolve around empowering UAE nationals to join the private sector, achieve higher flexibility in the labour market, attracting talent from overseas, improving labour productivity, enhance stability in labour relations by upholding the rights of social partners under the law, contributing to the protection of the UAE’s reputation and standing in international forums and improve our organizational performance in the delivery of our services in accordance with high standards of quality, efficiency and transparency.
Notably, we are in the process of finalizing a new standard employment contract that will guarantee the transparency of contracting by spelling out the respective rights and obligations of both parties and ensuring that the worker gives his or her verifiable consent to the terms of the contract prior to departing from his home country to work in the UAE.
Let us take a few moments to address the services of MOL. Where did MOL concentrate its efforts recently to improve its services?
Providing high quality customer service is a key strategic objective of MOL. One of the ways we planned to improve our services and their delivery was by delegating the delivery of certain of them to private sector operators such as Tasheel centers subject to assuring the quality of their delivery in accordance with MOL supervised standards, allowing MOL to spend more time discharging its mandate to develop and monitor the labour market. Another was by solidifying our partnerships with other government stakeholders in order to improve the quality of government services as a whole.
MOL paid particular attention to the constant improvement of its customer service in the articulation of its vision and mission statements and strategic plan in the 2014 – 2016 planning cycle, by targeting the provision of services in line with the vision of a digital UAE society and the increasing expectations of our customers. This is consistent with the transition to “Smart Government” as directed by H.H. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rahid Al Maktoum, Vice President of the UAE, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai. Hence, we introduced MOL services through smart mobile phone applications as part of a larger vision to transition to a comprehensive portfolio of digital services in the future.
How do you assess MOL’s relations with international organizations and forums that deal with labour issues and how do these relations impact the reputation of the UAE abroad?
MOL takes its relation with international relations and other international stakeholders very seriously, as it represents the federal government in dealing with many organizations, national governments and international and regional consultative processes. This is in line with the government’s longstanding policy of constructive and proactive engagement with the international community.
This approach has paid dividends in terms of positioning the UAE as leader in regional and international forums. We currently preside over the Governing Body of the Arab Labour Organization, are a titular member of the Governing Body of the International Labour Organization, Vice-President of the ILO-affiliated Turin training center.
We leverage the unique position of the UAE in the group of Arab states, which was the fruit of the moderate line adopted by our leadership since the founding of our Union, as well as the confidence in the UAE’s leadership abilities that is typically shared by a large number of foreign governments.
As you know, the UAE was instrumental in launching the Abu Dhabi Dialogue in 2008, a regional consultative process that groups Asian countries of origin and destination that first recognized temporary contract labour as a distinct labour mobility model that contributes to development. The success of the Abu Dhabi Dialogue, with its permanent office in the UAE, paved the way for the UAE to participate in the Global Forum on Migration and Development and assume a leadership role in the conduct of the forum’s proceedings over the past seven years.
How do you evaluate international reports that are critical of labour conditions in the UAE?
The UAE has over the years enacted a number of progressive and forward looking laws and regulations that deter and sanction violations of workers’ rights. MOL is committed to full transparency in dealing with workers’ rights and to preventing and sanctioning any violation in accordance with our laws.
As in any other labour market, violations or non-compliance with the terms of labor contracts do occur; what is important is that we constantly upgrade our regulation to make sure that such violations are anticipated and prevented and when they do occur we take immediate measures to sanction them. We, as part of the UAE government, are intent to do our part in upholding the rule of law and building a country of institutions that protect the rights of all who live in it.
Unfortunately, many of the reports you refer to are based on deficient information and do not adequately reflect labour conditions in the UAE as they tend to make unsubstantiated generalizations. Nevertheless, we consider that any plausible allegation of violation or abuse warrants consideration and we will investigate any that are brought to our attention aggressively and transparently.