Saturday, December 24, 2005

Time to rethink the six-month ban :: Emirates Today

A letter (editorial?) in today's Emirates Today echoes one of the recurring themes of The Emirates Economist. Naturally, I approve.

A lot is being said about the Labour Ministry’s desire to ensure, with good intentions, that all companies honour their deals with labourers. This is a welcome sign, as employers do need to have more respect for the law. Some of the practices in the private sector are horrifying. Holding passports of employees and making them work overtime and on holidays without compensation are some of these. There is little appreciation of the situation from most employers because little has been done over the years to remedy it.

Apart from dealing with such issues, the ministry must also accept that the root cause of these abuses is the absolute power that employers have over their employees by virtue of the law itself.

The six-month ban on a large category of working-class people if they change employers is perhaps the most negative aspect of the current law. Most of the employees do not complain because they are afraid that their employers will take advantage of the law and ban them from the country for six months, which will mean a major loss of income.

While an employee, in the event of an unfair dismissal, can go to the Labour Ministry and get an exemption to the rule, most of them neither know the law nor have the appetite to follow a lengthy paper trail to get justice.

In my opinion, the six-month ban was imposed in the 1970s to protect employers who spent money bringing workers to the country from losing them to other companies on arrival. In those days, it was difficult to entice workers to come to the country and hence to have a law such as this made sense.

Today, Dubai is attracting workers from all over. As such, I think it is time to revisit this aspect of the law. I would say that the creation of a free labour market is what is needed.

After the completion of, say, six months of employment, employees in all sectors should be free to change jobs. They should not need “release” letters from their employers if they have spent more than six months with them.

The effect of this will be that employers will have to treat their employees with a great deal more care and, given the forces of a free market, instances of exploitation will dramatically decrease.
. . .
This is what creates efficient labour markets the world over and it needs to be encouraged.

I believe the ministry has done an excellent job focusing on the abuse of the law. It is now time that it amends the necessary aspects of the law, which would make it easier to police the system.


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