Thursday, January 7, 2016

The amended labor law - how it affects you

The winds of change are quietly sweeping the region. 

Except the kingdom, that is. (No surprises in that, right?)

Starting the first of January, some wide ranging changes to the labor law of UAE are taking effect. While I had given an overview of the same earlier (click here), what caught my attention was this one in particular. 

It is common knowledge how unscrupulous sponsors fleece their employees - paying a salary lesser than what was contracted back home, making them working long hours without a break in absolutely horrendous conditions - we have all seen it enough and there is nothing more new about it. Country after country in the region, with the kingdom of humanity probably taking the lead, had turned a blind eye to this modern-day slavery.

In a refreshing change, the UAE Government has decided that with effect from 1st January, all employment contracts would have to necessarily be in the mother tongue of the employee. The contract must have details such as salary with complete break up, number of working hours per week, plus all standard entitlements guaranteed by law. Moreover, this contract has to be signed by both parties and submitted to the Ministry. Which means that the Arabic-only policy is effectively trashed. What a huge first step! Whether this is going to create better living conditions right away is something that we have to see, but at least the first signs of reform have actually come into effect. At least the employee gets to see and understand what he is signing. Way to go, UAE!

In contrast, just take a look at the amended labor law in Saudi. One of the most retrograde steps is Article 83, which talks about protecting an employer's trade secrets by an ex-employee. The earlier law was very specific. The nature of trade secret and the duration up to which an employee should not reveal the same had to be in writing. The only condition was that all of this would automatically lapse after 2 years. Sponsors, until this day, make use of this clause to their advantage as an excuse to avoid giving NOC to their employees. All that is going to change. For worse.

As per the newly amended labor law, the 2-year limit no longer applies. It can be for any period above 2 years. The saving grace is that the duration must be mentioned in writing at the start of the employment. So, a sponsor can simply write a 10-year limit about protecting his trade secrets and get his prospective employee to sign it. Imagine the plight of those poor guys who cannot even read what is written in Arabic (which is the only legally recognized language in the courts) and just sign on the dotted line simply to get a job. Wait, the worse is yet to come. 

Let us say that an employee leaves his job after 3 years and joins elsewhere. The secrecy clause still holds good until 10 years (assuming it was the period mentioned in the original contract). Not only that, the sponsor can sue his former employee even after the 10-year period is over. All that he has to do is file a report saying that his trade secrets have been compromised by his ex-employee and that's it. He could sit back and relax while the courts take another decade to finalize the case. This is worse than filing an absconder report, isn't it? 

So who says that it is only the blue-collar workers who are the worst affected. Wake up, all expats - whether your collar is blue, white, yellow, violet, magenta, pink or whatever - it is going to hit you. To make a long story short, even if you quit your job and join elsewhere in the kingdom, the long leash of your ex-employer will chase you.

Ignorance is no longer bliss, it could cost you dearly.

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