Taken Hostage in the UAE. Having nearly 90 percent of its populace comprised of non-natives, the United Arab Emirates leads in accommodating substantial immigrant populations. This fact might be unexpected for many given that the country’s global portrayal has primarily spotlighted the towering skyscrapers and opulent hotels in Dubai. Yet concealed from widespread attention are the living circumstances faced by a significant portion of the UAE’s migrant labor force. They primarily originate from South Asian countries like India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.
Under the UAE’s Kafala system, migrant workers are effectively under the sponsorship of their employers. Those are typically private companies seeking cost-effective labor sources. On official documents, the Kafala system outlines several fundamental rights for employees. Including provisions for annual and maternity leave, along with assurances of regular wage disbursements. The framework also prohibits employers from confiscating passports and requires that employees not work beyond eight hours daily. Nonetheless, the reports from the US State Department highlighted that the Emirati government seldom investigates infractions against the Emirati laws governing the Kafala system.
These breaches manifest as frequent passport confiscations and inconsistent or non-existent wage payments. The lack of stringent oversight empowers employers to frequently seize passports, compel residents in cramped labor accommodations, and curtail employees’ financial autonomy by imposing recruitment fees, rendering the theoretically guaranteed Kafala rights largely unenforceable.
In addition to the deficiency in regulatory measures, the UAE does not stipulate a minimum wage for migrant workers, prohibits their participation in unions, and mandates that they secure their employer’s “permission” before changing jobs or resigning. These restrictions contribute to a perception of the Kafala system and the UAE’s employment practices as emblematic of “modern slavery.”
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