UAE praised for enhancing foreign workers’ access to justice

Abu Dhabi: A mobile court, one-day courts and a special court at the Abu Dhabi International Airport are part of the UAE’s leading efforts to ensure swift justice for foreign workers, a senior official has said.

“In a country known for its cultural diversity, the UAE ensures equal access to justice for all foreign workers,” Dr Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qasim, chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue, told Gulf News.

Dr Al Qasim said the nation’s policy to enhance access to justice is embedded in its 2021 Vision, which stipulates, inter alia, the importance of promoting fair judiciary.

He was speaking after a recent conference themed, ‘Improving access to justice for workers: The case of UAE’, held by the Geneva Centre for Human Rights and the European Public Law Organisation, in cooperation with the UAE Permanent Mission to UN Geneva. The debate took place on the sidelines of the 37th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council.

Dr Al Qasim said the panel debate reviewed the progress achieved in the UAE to enhance access to justice and to identify areas of possible improvement. “It also served as a starting point for a process that would advocate a broadening of issues related to human rights and labour rights for foreign workers in the Gulf region,” he said.

Labour law experts who participated in a panel debate said initiatives implemented by the UAE to enhance access to justice for foreign workers have brought positive results and could be replicated on a broader basis in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries.

Dr Jill Wells, senior policy adviser at Engineers against Poverty, highlighted that the introduction of the WPS [wage protection system] has contributed to resolving issues related to late payments of wages. In this regard, companies employing migrant workers need to set aside bank guarantees, it was highlighted, to pay workers’ wages when employers default so as to protect the wages of migrant construction workers.

A case study analysis of the endeavours of the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department to promote access to justice was offered by Benjimin George Burgher, judge and legal consultant with ADJD. In this regard, a mobile court is being used by ADJD, he noted, to carry out court procedures in an accessible and effective manner.

More than 70,000 workers have so far benefited from this innovative method to enhance the provision of legal aid and access to justice.

Ambassador Obaid Salem Saeed Al Za’abi, the Permanent Representative of the UAE’s Permanent Mission to UN Geneva, said the UAE is governed by a legal system that protects foreign workers’ beliefs, respects their customs and traditions and their ways of life.

“Multiple measures, decrees, and resolutions” will be considered by the UAE government so as to “implement these laws and increase workers protections”, he said. Other initiatives related to the protection against work-related injuries, health, insurance and other related issues are also being implemented by the UAE government, Al Za’abi added.

One concrete example of the UAE’s endeavours to enhance access to justice is the introduction of the WPS. “This is an important step to ensure the protection of the rights of workers,” Al Za’abi said.

In view of the fact that migrants and foreign workers form up to 90 per cent of the populations in GCC countries, the Geneva Centre’s executive director, Ambassador Idriss Jazairy — who also served as a moderator for the debate — underlined that labour reforms must benefit host and source societies alike.

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