United Arab Emirates

Migrant workers in the UAE cut steel rebar at a construction site ©ILO

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has an estimated population of around 9.1 million of which some 12 percent are thought to be UAE nationals, and around 8 million foreigners, mostly temporary contract workers. Despite a concerted push towards "Emiratisation" of the workforce in the private sector, over 90 per cent of the private sector labour force is still manned by expatriates while UAE nationals continue to be employed in stable and relatively well-paying jobs in the country's vast public sector. Foreign workers in the UAE contribute to their home countries more than 29 billion US dollars in 2014,  making the UAE the third biggest source of remittances in the world.
As a result of labour market dynamics and mounting complexity of labour mobility, the Government of the UAE, represented by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MoHR) has been keen to act on strengthening the governance of the labour market.  Recent reforms to the kafala or sponsorship system have been introduced for temporary foreign workers who obtain their work permit through the MoHR, such as the possibility for these workers to terminate their contract unilaterally. The country has also instituted a Wage Protection System and issued ministerial decrees to ensure workers are paid on time.

There are still no independent trade unions in the UAE. However, the government has granted some professional association’s limited freedom to raise work-related concerns, lobby the government for redress, and file grievances. 

The ILO and the United Arab Emirates

In recent years, the UAE has taken steps in the fight against human trafficking and reform labour migration governance. The ILO and the UAE MoHR are deliberating an integrated cooperation framework that will produce decent work outcomes. These envisaged outcomes include guaranteeing workers protection, strengthening labour governance, improving labour dispute prevention and resolution mechanisms, and creating national and non-national employment.

Labour Governance

The ILO has worked with the Government of the UAE to produce an assessment of the design and main features of the labour administration component of the Wage Protection System (WPS) in the country. The initial recommendations for future ILO/UAE collaborative action focus on enhancing the functions of the WPS to incorporate various reforms including implementation of agreed work contracts, expansion of coverage, end of service benefits, a permanent evaluation committee, a tripartite approach, and the introduction of a minimum wage.

In 2016, the ILO and the UAE launched a joint project to improve the labour inspection, combat forced labour and develop mechanisms to improve access to justice for temporary foreign workers. See more…  

Labour Inspection and Occupational Safety and Health

An ILO assessment was undertaken in 2015-16 to enhance the labour inspection system in the UAE. Following that, the ILO is collaborating with the MoHR to build sustainable capacities within the labour inspectorate to develop and implement policies as well as programmes to improve working conditions and increase the health and safety standards at workplaces.

The ILO has also arranged comprehensive study tour for MoHRE’s high-end labour inspection officials to the Autoridade para as Condições do Trabalho (ACT), the Working Conditions Labour Authority of Portugal, in order to to showcase the functions of a pioneering labour inspection and OSH authority as an example for MoHRE to develop a Labour Inspection Strategic Support Unit.

Access to justice

The MoHR has recognized shortcomings in labour dispute settlement, and is collaborating with the ILO to review current modalities. The aim of this exercise is develop more effective individual labour dispute prevention and settlement mechanisms as well as improve access to justice for temporary foreign workers.

Labour market information

The MoHR is working with ILO to enhance the research and analysis capacity of the ministry in order to orient labour market and labour migration policies, monitor progress against objectives as well as evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of existing policies and mechanisms.Labour Migration & Trafficking
A draft law has been developed which seeks to regulate domestic workers in the UAE in line with international standards, specifically, the ILO Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189). The bill has been approved by the UAE’s cabinet and awaits approval and ratification by the Federal National Council and the President of the UAE.
In addition, the UAE has taken measures to rebalance the employer-temporary foreign worker relationship by enabling unilateral contract termination, along with measures aimed at ending contract substitution, whereby migrant workers are deceived to sign a contract upon leaving their country of origin and another contract upon arrival in the UAE.

ILO is also an observer to the UAE-initiated Abu Dhabi Dialogue, a policy dialogue platform between Asian countries of origin of temporary foreign workers and Gulf Cooperation Council countries of destination. In that capacity, the ILO has been able to share recommendations that, amongst other things,  relate to fair recruitment and reform in the relationship between employers and temporary foreign