Things are looking up for the millions of expats workings in the United Arab Emirates following the announcement of serious labor reforms.
Coming into effect Jan. 1, the reforms intend to improve transparency of job terms and employment contracts, specify how contracts can legally be terminated and make it easier for workers to change employers.
Nicholas McGeehan, a UAE researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the reforms are "a huge improvement and something we would fully support and applaud," according to Arabian Business. However, McGeehan warned that some of the reforms might be less serious than they sounded.
UAE Labor Minister Saqr Ghobash said, "We wanted to ensure that the labour relation is entered into voluntarily and freely, and for such a relationship to continue, the voluntary nature also must continue," according to The National.
"It takes two parties to agree to enter into a work relationship, but it needs only one party to decide to end that work relationship."
The new system would require employees to sign contracts before traveling to the UAE, which would then be filed with the Labor Ministry. Employers would then be unable to make changes, except for adding benefits with the approval of the employee.
Either side would be able to terminate employment under the new regulations and the employee would be free to search for new employment without traveling back to her or his home country. Previously, many foreign workers were signing contracts in their home countries and then being given a different contract upon arrival. The new system will prohibit this from happening.
The majority of these marginalized workers hail from Asian countries such as India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and the Philippines. Many come to the UAE and other Gulf countries for higher salaries and greater opportunities.
The reforms come amid international criticism of several Arab countries and their labor laws, which have been widely seen as exploitative and detrimental to workers. Qatar has faced the highest criticism for its treatment of foreign workers due to its efforts to host the 2022 World Cup.
Doha has promised changes and even issued "reforms" earlier this year, however these efforts have been criticized for not actually improving conditions. The UAE's reforms will hopefully serve as an example to other regional nations moving forward.