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Identifying Unethical Recruitment in the UAE: How to Protect Migrant Workers

  • by: Norma Dysangco
  • On: 16, Oct 2017
5 min read

With worker wellbeing rapidly advancing up the global agenda, UAE-based businesses are under pressure to recruit more ethically. Ethical recruitment protects companies and workers alike, but how can business put guidelines into practice?

In the United Arab Emirates, where outsourcing to other countries is commonplace, migrant workers are especially at risk. Beaten only by Saudi Arabia, the UAE is still the number one destination for Filipino migrant workers around the world, followed by Qatar and Hong Kong. Last year, the deployment of overseas Filipino workers reached 2 million.

People are recruited out of poverty – not because of their skills, and not because they have been properly matched,” Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration warned last week.

Recruiting migrant workers can drive huge benefits for both individuals and businesses: companies enjoy more cost-effective labour with specific skill-sets, and workers have the chance to experience new cultures and build new lives for themselves and their families. However, one trend is driving the unethical recruitment of migrant workers internationally – agencies are forcing workers to pay thousands for job opportunities that may not even exist.

Migrant Worker Careers: Expectation vs Reality

The majority of successful companies based in the Americas and Western Europe accept that higher fees are worth the return of engineers and technicians who produce high quality work. Expecting a candidate to expect to foot the bill of a company’s hiring costs is unthinkable in many parts of the world. Standard recruitment practices are simple: candidates apply via the appropriate channels (websites, social media, submitting CVs online and offline), the company selects the most suitable candidate and pays the individual a salary when they start to work.

Free recruitment from an agency in a migrant-labour community is becoming an increasingly appealing solution to UAE-based businesses eager to make savings. However, the real cost to the commercial productivity of the company – as well as the devastating personal cost to each individual in the migrant workforce – is not a price worth paying.

‘Imagine you are a jobseeker in India, Nepal, Philippines, Pakistan, or any of the other global centres for migrant labour,’ says Adrian Mansfield, VHR's Divisional Director for the Middle East. ‘Local work may be available but you have the skills to work internationally. You are told that your salary overseas will far exceed anything you can hope to earn locally. To millions of workers every year, this is the chance of a lifetime – but the dream soon turns into a nightmare.’

Local agents promise technical workers better pay and more interesting work – with a catch. Before candidates can even apply, individual workers – not recruitment companiesmust pay $5,000 to their local agent. For an extortionate fee, the agent will pass the candidate’s details on to one of their international client companies, without any guarantee that the end client will decide to hire this worker.

Ethical Recruitment – The Role of Businesses


Why is this exploitation still happening?  To put it simply: to prevent the client company from paying an agency fee. $5,000 is well over the average annual salary in most worldwide locations from which migrant labour is sourced – migrant workers are spending the equivalent of a years’ salary on the mere promise of a job.

Worse still, if migrant workers don’t have a large sum of cash to hand, the local agent will lend the money in return for a fixed deduction from the worker’s contracted monthly salary: a salary that may end up far lower than expected upon arrival into the new country.

Charging candidates large fees is directly responsible for migrant workers suffering from debt, receiving lower pay than originally promised and being prevented from leaving the job to find better paid work or to simply return home. In our workplace reality, this rings alarm bells as clear exploitation, but in many parts of the world unethical recruitment and modern slavery are common and acceptable practices.

Unethical recruitment may serve financial benefits in the short-term, but worker exploitation damages companies as well as their workers. The long-term damage to all parties is severe:

  • Workers are understandably demotivated and their productivity falls to abysmal levels, directly impacting upon company output and profit

  • Companies with unethical recruitment practices only ever have access to those desperate enough to pay for a job, and as a result are missing out on the full range of skills offered by the global markets. Businesses have the choice: the person with the skills required or the person willing to go to any lengths for any job

  • Demotivated staff rarely develop their skillsets. Low-skilled worker will remain low-skilled, forcing employers to hire in higher-priced staff rather than promote from within for supervisors and team leaders, wasting potential talent and damaging career development and business growth

  • With workers paying agency fees, unscrupulous agents can offer incentives to those charged with hiring large numbers of people. Opportunities for corruption are rife and can generate negative PR that becomes catastrophic for well-known brands.

How to Establish Ethical Recruitment Practices

Adrian advises, ‘As a recruitment consultant with 10 years’ global recruitment experience and a focus in the UAE, I have been asked this question many times.’

‘The key to practising ethical recruitment is to ensure transparency throughout your supply chain. Ask questions, both of your candidates and your recruitment agency – do they charge fees to the candidate? What are your suppliers doing to protect workers against Modern Slavery? Identifying the problem is the most important step to solving it.’

Check out Adrian’s Top 10 Tips for Ethical Recruitment Practices.

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