The Guardian newspaper described the Emirate of Dubai as a blatant example of the violation and abuse of migrant workers’ rights.
In an article published by the Guardian newspaper translated by the European Microscope for Middle East issues, journalist Betty Pattison called on Britain to stop the mistreatment of migrant workers before they become like Dubai.
After Brexit, a severe labour shortage and the fallout from COVID-19 have forced the government to look beyond Europe, searching for seasonal workers.
The article mentioned the suffering of workers, mainly from Nepal, in paying thousands of pounds in illegal recruitment fees and living in uninhabitable places and their inability to leave work because of the sponsor.
Britain has a seasonal worker scheme that offers short-term visas for agricultural work on employment from more than 50 countries, such as Barbados, Tajikistan and Nigeria, and Nepal.
The scheme started with about 2,500 workers in 2019 and may employ up to 40,000 this year.
The article said some testimonies of workers hired through the scheme sound uncomfortable, such as those he heard countless times in the Gulf.
A Ukrainian farm worker said she was forced to cover her hiring costs and signed a contract she didn’t quite understand. When the workers staged a protest, they were suspended for a week.
The cost of the visa, airfare and fees for a Nepalese worker was almost a third of what she earned during the six months she spent on a farm.
Pattison emphasized that practices can be found similar to the kafala system in the UK, the most critical of labour laws in the Gulf, under which workers cannot leave their jobs without their employer’s permission.
In March, the Guardian revealed that some foreign nurses working for the NHS in England and Wales and private care homes were forced to pay thousands of pounds if they wanted to leave or change jobs before the end of their contracts, a condition one anti-slavery expert likened to debt bondage.
A European report had previously said that Asian workers and immigrants suffer from racial discrimination in the Emirates, which has turned into a police state against expatriates.
The European Microscope for Middle East Issues said that the International Center’s investigation provides further evidence of the widespread violations and racial discrimination against migrant workers in the UAE and the authorities’ involvement by failing to resolve it.
The research team at the Democracy Transparency Center had published a report on racial discrimination against migrant workers in the UAE, despite its ratification of many international human rights laws.
The report described the UAE as a police state that practices racial discrimination and tyranny, periodically violating human rights and persecuting its citizens.
The report said that political opponents and activists face a lot of repressions, as do human rights defenders who seek to denounce these types of violations and are subjected to arbitrary detention.
The UAE economy is heavily dependent on foreign labour, most of whom are low-wage and semi-skilled workers from Africa, Asia or other parts of the Middle East, who make up nearly 90% of the country’s population.
Labour migration in the UAE is regulated through the so-called sponsorship system, whereby foreign workers need a “guarantor”, usually the employer, to come to the country.
This sponsorship enables workers to be entirely dependent on their employer, which reduces their social and political power and greatly protects their rights and racial discrimination.
As a result, it is complicated for migrant workers to leave the country, change jobs without permission, or demand better working conditions and wages, which automatically leads to their exploitation.
In 2020, like most Arab countries, the UAE had passed some legal reforms to ease contractual restrictions on the sponsorship system by setting minimum work standards such as paid vacation, limiting working hours and banning child labour.
Despite these legal efforts, there remain many significant gaps in their implementation and a lack of enforcement.
Sequentially, the UAE authorities continue to give employers significant control over nearly every aspect of workers’ lives, thus frequently subjecting them to trafficking, exploitation, and racial discrimination.