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30 dic 2010

Forced Labor

A new provision by the UAE Minister of Labor stipulates that from January 1 2011 a new employment permit will be granted immediately after a work contract expires eliminating (if the contract ends amicably) the six-month period mandated so far to get a new contract in the country. It is a measure that makes the labor market more efficient and alleviates the many constraints and imposition on employees in the UAE. In any case it is simple common sense.
Not so for the employers. Their representatives gathered at the Ministry of Labour to protest against this reform that merely removes anachronistic provisions that have few analogies in market economies. This is an example of the arguments brought about by the protesters, taken from the local press: "After this news came out, our employees started threatening that they can leave as soon as their contracts are finished and not worry about the six-month ban," said Naima, an engagement administrator from an audit company in Abu Dhabi who did not want to give her last name. "We used to have control over them, and we knew it wasn't easy for them to go, now we will lose this control."
That is right! Some employers demand control over their employees. It is intolerable that they might decide to leave! Who do they think they are?
Others were upset that dropping a year on the duration of labor contracts has the practical consequence that companies have actually to pay end-of-service payments. According to Mohamed, a manager at an airline, who joined the protesters but preferred to remain anonymous when interviewed by a journalist: "This is really bad news; this means we will have to pay our employees their end of service payments at the end of their contracts after two years. We didn't have to pay much before because they always left before the three years. This means we will lose a lot."
These remarks shed some light on business that have made a habit (and a lucrative one) of making life tough for their employees in various guises so to force them to resign and deprive them of their end of service compensation. Unfortunately it will take more than a palliative to enforce contractual obligation in a fair way but the changes from January 1st are a small step in the right direction.

27 dic 2010

Kafka in the Gulf

It looked simple enough. My bank required a copy of my passport, certified by a Notary Public or by a government official. I know that there is a Notary Publich in Barsha near the Courts Building. I passed by several times, so I felt relieved that the task would not be a jumble of procedures and trips to various offices. Best of all the Notary Public, I learn, closes at 8:00 pm. So after work I will have time to drive there. But when I arrive at 7:30 the door is already locked. The Pakistani attendant insists that I come the following day, because it is too late. I point at the sign with the closing time but he shrugs. There are too many people inside. The next day I go early enough. I explain at the information desk that I need a certified copy of the first page of my passport. The blank expression on his face sets off an alarm bell in my mind. He has no idea.

After I explain three times the matter he suggests that I speak to a supervisor. I go to an office where a lady is kind enough to listen, but confirms that the Notary Public does not attest the copy of identity documents. It can attest the copy of a contract but not a passport. I am naive enough to ask what is the difference. There is no difference. That's the way it is. I can try at the Ministry of Justice somewhere between Dubai and Sharjah. In which department or office it not for anybody to know. I resolve to ask a friend who is a lawyer in Dubai. The response is hardly reassuring. Every time she goes to an office the rules have changed. One day you need the traslation in Arabic of a document the next you do not. One day the contract must be verified by a Consulate a week later it must be verified by a Court. One day an English translation is deemed acceptable, then once you go back with the document translated another official decides that an Arabic translation is a must. And so on. So everytime she needs an interaction withe the authorities she prays that the harassment will not go on indefinitely. She has to bear the clients' rage, their suspicion that she is an incompetent or worse, their frustration with the waste of time (for whoich they refuse to pay) and the whole story definitely does not contribute to make the business and legal environment attractive for anybody with a grain of mental stability.

23 dic 2010

Common Currency

It came out of the blue. For months the monetary union in the Gulf had been forgotten. It had disappeared from the media and those few who still remembered its existence were given the glances usyally reserved for lunatics.
Then a few day ago the Secretary General of the GCC, Al Attiya stated that the common currency "is around the corner".
This morning the Arabic press is reporting that at its fourth meeting, the GCC Monetary Council yesterday has approved an institutional framework for the Gulf Central Bank. Almost nobody was expecting such an accelleration in the process and details have not been disclosed, but this is a major breakthorugh. Also the announcement that the Monetary Council will start to recruit staff ia another signal that the project is gaining momentum.