United Arab Emirates
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: Tier 2
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a destination and transit country for men and women predominantly from South, Southeast, and Central Asia and Eastern Europe subjected to labor and sex trafficking. Migrant workers, who comprise more than 95 percent of UAE’s private sector workforce, are recruited globally, with a majority from South and Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and a small percentage from East Africa; some of these workers are subjected to forced labor in UAE. Women from some of these countries travel willingly to UAE to work as domestic workers, massage therapists, beauticians, hotel cleaners, or elsewhere in the service sector, but some are subjected to forced labor through unlawful passport withholding, restrictions on movement, non-payment of wages, threats, and physical or sexual abuse. Sponsorship laws restrict the ability to leave an existing employer and often give employers power to control foreign domestic workers’ movements, cancel residence permits, deny workers the ability to change employers, deny permission to leave the country, and threaten employees with abuse of legal processes, making them vulnerable to exploitation. To address longstanding problems with source-country labor recruitment companies charging workers exorbitant fees and hiring them with false employment contracts, effectively forcing workers into involuntary servitude and debt bondage, UAE issued decrees in 2015 specifically to combat contract switching and make contracts enacted in source countries enforceable under UAE law. Though under UAE laws employers must cover the cost of recruitment, many source-country labor recruitment companies continue to charge workers high fees in home countries outside of UAE jurisdiction causing them to enter UAE owing debts in their countries of origin. Some women from Eastern Europe, Central Asia, East and Southeast Asia, East Africa, Iraq, Iran, and Morocco are subjected to forced prostitution in UAE.
The Government of the United Arab Emirates does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. In January 2016, the government implemented three new labor reforms intended to reduce forced labor practices among foreign workers in the private sector by ensuring consistency between initial job offers and final contracts and increasing the ability of employees to leave their jobs and seek new ones. In March 2015, the government put into effect amendments to victim protection clauses of Federal Law 51 of 2006 on Combating Human Trafficking Crimes, including non-penalization of victims for crimes committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking. The government’s anti-trafficking criminal prosecutions continued to largely focus on sex trafficking. The government prosecuted 17 sex trafficking cases involving 54 traffickers, compared to 15 sex trafficking cases involving 46 traffickers in 2014. It also referred two labor trafficking cases for prosecution involving 10 laborers, in comparison to none the previous year. The government convicted six traffickers and reported sentences were up to five years’ imprisonment. The government provided assistance to at least 42 trafficking victims during the reporting year. With regard to domestic employees, who fall under the jurisdiction of the interior ministry and who are not covered by most labor protections afforded to private sector workers including the newly penned laws enacted January 2016, the government did not enforce a prohibition on withholding workers’ passports by employers, which remained a problem. The government provided avenues to settle migrant workers’ complaints of abuse through hotlines and a formal process for registering disputes. The government continued to implement numerous awareness campaigns and held trainings for labor recruitment agencies and police. The National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking (NCCHT) continued to implement the national action plan.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE UNITED ARAB EMIRATES:
Significantly increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and punish trafficking offenses, especially labor trafficking involving domestic workers, and convict and punish traffickers, including recruitment agents and employers; pass and implement comprehensive laws to improve protections for domestic workers; continue to use standard procedures for victim identification among foreign workers subjected to forced labor, particularly domestic workers who have fled their employers; provide protection services to all trafficking victims, including of forced labor on par with those available for sex trafficking victims; uphold amendments to law 51 to ensure victims are not incarcerated, fined, or otherwise penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking; allow all male trafficking victims, of both sex and labor trafficking, access to services at the new shelter for male victims; and enforce prohibitions on withholding workers’ passports.
The government moderately increased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking offenses. The government prosecuted 17 sex trafficking cases involving 56 defendants; three cases resulted in the conviction of six traffickers and 14 cases remained pending at the end of the reporting period. It also referred two labor trafficking cases for prosecution involving 10 laborers, in comparison to none the previous year. Federal law 51 prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes penalties ranging from one year to life in prison, as well as fines and deportation. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. In September 2015, the government issued three new labor decrees intended to reduce forced labor practices among private sector workers. Ministerial Decree 764 requires employers to give potential employees a contract at the time an offer is made, which meets standard criteria and is in a language the individual understands, prior to the prospective employee applying for a visa to enter the country. The contract must then be signed by the worker a second time within one week of entering the country, making it legally enforceable in the UAE and eliminating employers’ ability to change the promised terms of the original job offer. Ministerial Decree 765 makes it easier for employees, unilaterally or in mutual agreement with an employer, to terminate job contracts. Ministerial Decree 766 ensures that an employee may seek employment with a new employer as long as the old employment relationship was terminated consistent with the prior decree. The three newly issued decrees do not apply to domestic workers, and a draft law protecting their rights, which the cabinet approved in January 2012, remained awaiting final approval and enactment for the fourth consecutive year.
The government continued to respond to and investigate workers’ complaints of unpaid wages through a dispute resolution process and the Wages Protection System (WPS), which is intended to ensure the payment of wages to workers and punish employers with administrative and financial penalties for failing to comply. Workers filed labor complaints through hotlines or in person with the Ministry of Labor (MOL). During 2015, MOL received 2,071 inquires from workers regarding their rights and various contract provisions. In addition, the MOL labor relations office settled 1,514 wage disputes, and another 48,850 cases of wage arrears were identified through automated systems and resolved through regulatory action. The government referred two of these labor violations for potential forced labor crimes for criminal prosecution. Especially with regard to domestic workers, the government did not enforce a prohibition on employers withholding workers’ passports, which remained a widespread problem for household employees, although considerably less so for private sector workers. MOL maintains a staff of 63 multi-lingual labor law specialists to preside over disputes. About three-quarters of disputes are resolved without going to court. For those that proceed to court, the average trial length in 2015 was 27 days.
The government continued to train judicial, law enforcement, and labor officials on human trafficking in 2015. In November, the NCCHT, Dubai Police, and the Dubai Judicial Institute launched a four-month diploma program to train government officials on handling human trafficking issues. The first class consisted of about 25 students including senior members of various government organizations. In addition, the Ministry of Interior (MOI) continued anti-trafficking training during the reporting year; 3,302 individuals were trained, and 12,104 individuals attended various lectures and other events.
The government made increased efforts to identify and provide protective services to sex trafficking victims, but most notably in the case of domestic workers did not proactively identify forced labor victims. During the reporting year, the government identified and referred to protective services 35 trafficking victims, in comparison to 20 sex trafficking victims the previous year. The government continued to fund shelters for female and child victims of sex trafficking and abuse in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ras al Khaimah, and Sharjah; these shelters provided medical, psychological, legal, educational, and vocational assistance. The government also continued to fund a shelter for male victims; however, no male trafficking victims entered the shelter during the reporting period. MOI continued to distribute guidelines for law enforcement officials with standard operating procedures for identifying victims of both sex and labor trafficking. MOI and the government-funded shelters continued to implement their memorandum of understanding, which ensured police were responsible for referring and escorting victims safely to shelters.
Some domestic workers, including victims of abuse by their employers, continued to seek shelter assistance at their embassies and consulates in part due to a lack of government shelters for forced labor victims. The government continued to implement a system to place suspected trafficking victims in a transitional social support center, instead of a detention center, until victim identification was completed.
The government increased its disbursement of funds to trafficking victims, allocating 294,000 dirham ($80,000) in 2015 to help with repatriation expenses such as housing, children’s education, and medical expenses, in comparison to 205,000 dirham ($56,000) in the prior year. The government exempted trafficking victims who had an ongoing court case against an employer for labor abuses from paying fines accrued for overstaying their visas and offered trafficking victims shelter, counseling, and immigration relief. The government did not provide permanent residency status to victims; however, the government worked with international organizations to resettle victims who could not return to their home countries. Workers whose employer did not pay them for 60 days were entitled to stay in the country and search for a new employer. The government continued to assist foreign workers who faced abuse and exploitation through its human rights office in Dubai International Airport.
The government made increased efforts to prevent human trafficking during the reporting year and continued to carry out its national action plan to address human trafficking. The NCCHT website includes information on its anti-trafficking strategy and an annual publication of the government’s efforts. The government implemented several awareness campaigns and publicized its anti-trafficking hotline—operated by the inter-ministerial NCCHT. In April 2015, the Permanent Committee for Labour Affairs, in collaboration with a private company, launched a year-long multi-lingual campaign to inform unskilled workers in Dubai about their rights. In October 2015, the government launched a two-year national awareness campaign aimed at recruitment agencies for domestic labor, consisting of police department visits to recruiters, recruiter education on their legal requirements, and recruiter training in recognizing signs of human trafficking, as well as the distribution of information to domestic workers arriving at airports warning them of recruiting scams and providing options available for help. In December 2015, the government launched a separate six-month campaign in multiple languages to educate individuals entering the country to take low-wage jobs on human trafficking laws and their options for help. The campaign also included training police and airport personnel in recognizing signs of trafficking. In 2015, the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children provided women discharged from their shelters with pamphlets to distribute in their home countries and educate their community and peers on the risks of becoming trafficking victims. MOI hosted 22 campaigns aimed at educating workers about their rights. The Dubai Police Human Trafficking Crimes Control Center provided lectures and training to 4,490 students, government employees, and workers. MOL provided education and training to 203,584 workers through various awareness initiatives. MOL reported 78,847 work-site inspections, including 27,242 field visits to ensure compliance with a ban on midday work from 12:30-3:00 p.m. between June 15 and September 15. These inspections found 85 work permit violations, 52 safety violations, and 30 mid-day work ban violations. In addition two suspected cases of human trafficking were referred to prosecution. MOL also conducted regular inspections of labor camps and during the year suspended the issuance of hiring permits at 15 companies for failing to provide adequate housing for their workers. The government sustained its WPS electronic salary-monitoring system intended to ensure workers received their salaries. The government also requires employers to provide bank guarantees, currently totaling 22 billion dirham ($6 billion), which can be drawn on to meet unpaid wage obligations or in cases of company bankruptcy. Since its implementation in 2009, the government has used this mechanism to recover 41 million dirham ($11 million) for 16,497 workers from 371 companies that have defaulted on their wage obligations. The government provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel. The government made efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor but did not take measures to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts in UAE.