A comprehensive body of international law protecting workers rights has been developed over the past 50 years. Where a state has accepted to be bound by these standards, they apply to all workers in the country, both foreign and citizens. In most cases, a governments obligation is to ensure that employers respect the rights of workers by law, regulation, investigation, and prosecution, as appropriate.
As already noted, the UAE is a member of the ILO. It has ratified six of the eight core ILO conventions, namely the conventions relating to elimination of forced and compulsory labor, elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation, and abolition of child labor. The UAE has also ratified ILO Convention No. 1 on hours of work, Convention No. 81 on labor inspection, and Convention No. 89 on night work (women).144
The UAE has not ratified core ILO Conventions No. 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize and No. 98 on the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining.145 This notwithstanding, in its 1998 Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, the ILO has emphasized that all member states must implement and respect fundamental workers rights within the ILO framework.146 The Declaration specifically states that all members are obligated to allow freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining:
The ILO interprets freedom of association and effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining under the Declaration to mean that all workers and all employers have the right freely to form and join groups for the promotion and defence of their occupational interests.148 The ILO also requires that workers organizations be allowed to establish their own rules, operate freely, and elect their representatives in full freedom and that the organizations be truly independent and free of external interference: Workers and employers can set up, join and run their own organisations without interference from the State or one another.149 In addition, the ILO requires that the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining be incorporated into the member states legal frameworks:
Furthermore, in 1975, the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association, stated that ILO members, by virtue of their membership, are bound to respect a certain number of general rules which have been established for the common good. Among these principles, freedom of association has become a customary rule above the Conventions.151
The ILO has also recognized workers right to strike. The ILOs Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations in 1994 stated that the right to strike is an intrinsic corollary of the right to organize protected by Convention No. 87.152
ILO Convention No. 155 addresses occupational health and safety of workers.153 Although the UAE has not ratified this convention, it should consider doing so and amending UAE labor law to incorporate its provisions as a step towards addressing serious concerns regarding the health and safety of workers in the country, particularly construction workers. The convention calls for national policies to prevent accidents and injuries to health by minimizing the causes of hazards inherent in the working environment. It urges states parties to formulate, implement and periodically review a coherent national policy on occupational safety, occupational health and the working environment. In addition, the convention calls for the enforcement of laws and regulations concerning occupational safety and health and urges the holding of inquiries, where cases of occupational accidents or any other injuries to health which arise in the course of or in connection with work appear to reflect situations which are serious. It requires that government authorities ensure that the publication, annually, of information on occupational accidents, occupational diseases and other injuries to health which arise in the course of or in connection with work.
While the UAE is not a party to the instruments cited below, they constitute authoritative sources and guidelines that reflect international best practice.
Key international instruments protect workers rights to freedom of association and to bargain collectively, as well as the right to strike. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) recognizes the right of everyone to form trade unions and join the trade union of his choice, subject only to the rules of the organization concerned, for the promotion and protection of his economic and social interests and the right to strike.154 The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantees the right to freedom of association by stating, Everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests.155
The ICESCR specifies the right of everyone to the enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work which ensures, in particular safe and healthy working conditions.156
The confiscation of passports by the employers of migrant workers is explicitly forbidden under the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. Article 21 of the convention states:
The UAE should consider signing and ratifying the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, and incorporating the conventions provisions into domestic labor law to provide migrant workers the protections they are due under international law.
144 See http://webfusion.ilo.org/public/db/standards/normes/appl/index.cfm?lang=EN (accessed October 5, 2006). Conventions No. 1, 29, 81, and 89 ratified on May 27, 1982. Conventions 100 and 105 ratified on February 24, 1997, Convention 138 ratified on October 2, 1998, Conventions 111 and 182 ratified on June 28, 2001.
145 ILO Convention No. 87 concerning Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise, 68 U.N.T.S. 17, entered into force July 4, 1950. ILO Convention No. 98 concerning the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 96 U.N.T.S. 257, entered into force July 18, 19 51.
146 International Labour Organization, Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, http://www.ilo.org/dyn/declaris/DECLARATIONWEB.static_jump?var_language=EN&var_pagename=DECLARATIONTEXT (accessed August 10, 2006).
147 Ibid. (emphasis added).
148 International Labour Organization, dedicated webpage about the Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, section on Freedom of Association and Effective Recognition of the Right to Collective Bargaining, http://www.ilo.org/dyn/declaris/DECLARATIONWEB.static_jump?var_language=EN&var_pagename=ISSUESFREEDOM (accessed September 12, 2006).
149 Ibid. This is also articulated in ILO Convention No. 87, art. 3.
150 International Labour Organization, dedicated webpage about the Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, section on Freedom of Association and Effective Recognition of the Right to Collective Bargaining, http://www.ilo.org/dyn/declaris/DECLARATIONWEB.static_jump?var_language=EN&var_pagename=ISSUESFREEDOM (accessed October 11, 2006).
151 ILO Committee on Freedom of Association, Fact-Finding and Conciliation Commission Report: Chile, 1975, para. 10.
152 International Labour Conference, 1994, Freedom of association and collective bargaining: The right to strike, Report of the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations, 81st Session, Geneva, 1994, Report III (Part 4B), para. 151.
153 ILO Convention No. 155 concerning Occupational Safety and Health, adopted June 22, 1981, 1331 U.N.T.S. 279, entered into force August 11, 1983.
154 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), adopted December 16, 1966, G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 49, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), 993 U.N.T.S. 3, entered into force January 3, 1976, art. 8(1)(a), (d).
155 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), adopted December 16, 1966, G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 52, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), 999 U.N.T.S. 171, entered into force March 23, 1976, art. 22.
156 ICESCR, art. 7.