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07DUBAI211 2007-03-27 09:51:00 CONFIDENTIAL Consulate Dubai
Cable title:  

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH CRITICIZES THE UAE'S DRAFT LABOR LAW

Tags:   ELAB PHUM ECON SOCI AE 
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1. (C) SUMMARY. Human Rights Watch (HRW) representatives
criticized the United Arab Emirates' draft labor law in a press
conference held in Dubai on March 25. HRW's primary complaints
were that the draft labor law does not permit laborers to
organize and strike, and the draft law does not cover domestic
workers. HRW also criticized the UAEG for not enforcing the
existing law, citing the lack of serious punishment for
employers who violate it. HRW also praised the UAEG, however,
for putting the draft on-line and welcoming comments. The UAEG
attempted to preempt HRW's critique with a press release
describing the government's ongoing campaign to improve working
conditions in the country. A UAEG source provided the Embassy
with a copy of the original press statement which included
portions referring to allowing workers to organize and engage in
collective bargaining - which had been redacted prior to
release. The following day, UAE Minister of Labor Dr. Ali Al
Ka'abi, released a statement through the official Emirates News
Agency (WAM) in response to the HRW report noting that the
Ministry of Labor is committed to transparency and will consider
the views of HRW. "We appreciate the comments made by HRW on the
draft labor law in the UAE and we will take them into
consideration and study all proposals thoroughly," said Al
Ka'abi. End Summary.



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COMMENTS ON THE DRAFT LAW?: YOU ASKED FOR THEM~


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2. (U) Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director of HRW for the
Middle East and North Africa, and Lance Lattig, HRW's Media
Editor, held a press conference in Dubai's Media City on March
25 to announce the publication on HRW's website of their 16 page
tract "The UAE's Draft Labor Law, Human Rights Watch's Comments
and Recommendations." During the conference Whitson highlighted
the areas of the UAE's draft labor law that did not meet
internationally accepted norms for the treatment of laborers.
The primary areas of the draft law that HRW found unacceptable
were that there is no provision in the law that allows workers -
almost all of whom in the UAE are expatriates -- to organize,
engage in collective bargaining, or strike. In addition, HRW
criticized the draft law for excluding domestic workers. She
stated that the US-UAE FTA is "dead" and this was solely the
result of problems regarding workers' rights in the UAE.



3. (U) Whitson also criticized the UAEG for not prosecuting
employers who violate workers' rights. She said that even if the
law was strictly enforced and employers were prosecuted, the
maximum penalties that could be imposed are insufficient. As an
example, she said that an employer who withholds salaries of
thousands of workers for a year could be slapped with a AED
12,000 (USD 3260) fine. For large companies, such a fine is
meaningless.



4. (U) When asked by reporters why the UAE was being criticized,
Whitson replied that HRW holds all countries, whether it be the
US, France, or Saudi Arabia up to the same standard. She said
that it was good that the UAE had posted the draft labor law on
the Internet for comment, and that HRW was responding with
recommendations for the UAEG. She added that HRW recognized that
the draft law was an important step toward reform and
transparency, but HRW wanted the law improved to both meet
internationally accepted standards and make the UAE an example
for other regional states to emulate.



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UAE'S ATTEMPTED PRE-EMPTIVE STRIKE HAS LITTLE IMPACT


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5. (C) In an attempt to blunt the impact of the HRW
announcement, the UAEG released a press statement just prior to
the HRW press conference which claimed progress in the
government's campaign to improve working conditions.
Additionally, the Minister of Labor, Dr. Ali Abdullah Al Kaabi
told the Gulf News, a local English language paper, "it is the
government's intention to devise a framework that will permit it
to meet the relevant international standards relating to the
rights or workers." The Ministry of Labor also promised that a
mandatory minimum wage would be enacted, and that the first
group covered would be construction workers. (Note: HRW
estimates there are 700,000 low-wage construction laborers in
the UAE, a number that seems, if anything, low to us. end note)



6. (C) A source within the UAEG provided the Ambassador with a
draft version of the UAE press release in advance, which showed
that references to permitting organized labor and collective
bargaining originally included in it had subsequently been
redacted. Al Kaabi was originally quoted saying: "the Ministry
is also preparing proposals for the introduction of a minimum
wage structure, at first in the construction industry, and then

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to be expanded to other sectors, and is examining ways in which
collective bargaining and the establishment of worker's
organizations can be introduced." Reference to "collective
bargaining" and "establishment of worker's organizations" were
not in the final press release. A paragraph that discussed the
possibility of permitting collective bargaining and workers
organizing was completely omitted from the official press
release. Finally, a sentence in the draft that indicated that
the Ministry of Labor officials were sympathetic when workers
who were not being paid actually stopped work was edited to show
that all work stoppages were in breach of the labor law.



7. (C) Lance Lattig commented to Poleconoff privately that he
was pleased that the UAEG allowed HRW to come into the country
and hold a press conference without interference. Lattig added
that the Chinese government would not permit HRW to hold a press
conference, let alone one without interference. He added that
recently in Nigeria HRW was required to bring in a large number
of security guards for protection.



8. (U) The press conference was well attended by the local
Arabic and English newspaper reporters as well as international
Arabic and English press, and received largely straightforward
coverage in the local English and Arabic press.



9. (U) On March 26, UAE Minister of Labor Dr. Ali Al Ka'abi
released a statement through the official Emirates News Agency
(WAM) in response to the HRW report noting that the MOL is
committed to transparency and will consider the views of HRW.
The fact that the MOL solicited public opinion on the proposed
labor law, including the views of HRW, is meant to enhance
transparency, said Al Ka'abi. He continued by saying, "We
appreciate the comments made by HRW on the draft labor law in
the UAE and we will take them into consideration and study all
proposals thoroughly." He concluded by stating "The ministry
will not back away from its transparent approach . . ., whether
we agree with them [public comments] or not."



10. (C) Comment: Although the draft labor law does not address
collective bargaining and rights of association--as MOL
officials have repeatedly indicated to Emboffs would be
included--the fact that the proposed law was published for
comment is an encouraging sign of increasing transparency in
government. It is still unknown whether the UAEG actually
intends to incorporate these comments. End comment.
SUTPHIN