Labour Mobility in Asia – Managing the Temporary Contractual Employment Cycle

Almost 3 million Asian contract workers leave their countries every year to work abroad, with a large portion of them traveling to the Gulf Cooperation Council states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) to work in the construction, trade, health care, and other service sectors.

These temporary contractual workers are potent agents of development for both the country of origin and country of destination. As such, there is a need to effectively manage their migration in order make full use of their potential contributions to development.

In view of this challenge, the Governments of India, the Philippines, and the United Arab Emirates launched a pilot project to test and identify best practices in managing the temporary contractual employment cycle. The lessons learned from the pilot project will form the basis for developing a comprehensive regional framework that can be carried out on a much larger scale.

The Abu Dhabi Declaration

The catalyst for this pilot project is the Abu Dhabi Declaration, a document that calls for a collaborative approach to better manage temporary labour mobility and maximize its benefits for foreign workers and the development of both countries of origin and destination.

There is a vested interest for all involved governments to uphold the rights of workers and to ensure that workers successfully fulfill the terms of their contracts.

The success of the temporary contractual employment cycle requires the establishment of a holistic approach that:

  • Protects workers from all forms of exploitation;
  • Guarantees fair and safe working conditions and the ability of workers to seek redress of legitimate grievances;
  • Prepares workers for their return to their home country after they fulfill the terms of their contract;
  • Helps workers reintegrate successfully in their home communities.
  • To fully reap the benefits of organized contractual labour mobility there is a need for effective policies, response mechanisms and adequate institutional capacity.

Read more about the Abu Dhabi Declaration

Key Objectives

The pilot project tests and identifies best practices in the administration of the temporary contractual employment cycle. The Governments of India, the Philippines, and the United Arab Emirates envisage that the lessons learned from the pilot project would form the basis for the development of a draft comprehensive regional multilateral framework for the larger group of Asian countries of origin and destination that participated in the Abu Dhabi Declaration.

The specific goals of the pilot project are to introduce policies and procedures that improve:

  • The recruitment and pre-deployment of temporary contractual workers
  • The working and living conditions of the workers in their country of destination
  • The preparation of temporary contractual workers as they plan to return home after they have fulfilled the terms of their contract
  • The economic and social reintegration of returning workers in their home community.


3,000 temporary contractual workers from India and the Philippines (1,500 from each country) employed in the construction, health care and hospitality sectors in the United Arab Emirates will benefit from the pilot project.

Project Description

In pursuit of the goals and objectives outlined in the Abu Dhabi Declaration, the Ministry of Labour of the UAE, the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs of India, and the Department of Labour and Employment of the Philippines have formed a partnership. The governments have decided to collaborate on the launch of a pilot project to develop and demonstrate best practices in the administration of the temporary contractual employment cycle.

The three governments have invited key international and regional stakeholders, including the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Arab Labour Organization (ALO) and IOM to bring their expertise on temporary contractual labour mobility through a Steering Committee. IOM will also provide implementation support. The UAE Ministry of Labour has also convened a Commission of International Experts to assist with the formulation of a draft comprehensive regional framework based on lessons learned from the pilot project.

The project will create project management teams in the United Arab Emirates, India, and the Philippines. The teams will work with selected groups of temporary contractual workers in the construction, hospitality, and health care sectors.

The Indian and Philippine teams will focus on the development of a fairer, more efficient recruitment process as well as the planned reintegration of workers returning to their home communities.

The United Arab Emirates team will work to create more transparent and accessible mechanisms that workers can use to resolve problems associated with unsatisfactory working or living conditions. In addition, it will develop initiatives to assist construction, hospitality and healthcare workers who are preparing to return home after the expiration of their contract.

A Steering Committee composed of representatives from the three participating governments and the assisting international organizations will oversee the pilot project.

The project will be subject to both internal and external evaluation. Rigorous evaluation is essential because the pilot project is ambitious in its scope and objectives. At the conclusion of the project, the Steering Committee will work with a Commission of International Experts to identify the key lessons learned from the initiative.

Principal Activities

Phase 1: Ensuring Fair and Efficient Recruitment. The project management teams in India and the Philippines will identify workers in the construction, healthcare and hospitality sectors and provide them with pre-departure orientation programmes that provide each temporary contractual worker with :

  • An understood and enforceable contract that is available in the language of the worker and which corresponds to the English-language or Arabic-language contract issued by the employer;
  • Customized and gender-sensitive orientation sessions that provide workers with a realistic picture of living and working conditions in the United Arab Emirates;
  • Measures that ensure that workers do not pay excessive recruiting fees and are placed in positions that correspond to their skills;
  • Establish one or more "one-stop-shop" centers in India and in the Philippines for receiving and processing applications for work;
  • Verification of travel documents and assistance in filling out the required documentation necessary for travel;
  • Assistance in booking tickets at preferential rates as well as assistance in moving through customs and immigration controls;
  • Assistance in obtaining fitness for travel medical checks prior to departure.

Phase II: Treating Workers with Dignity. The project management team in the United Arab Emirates will develop programmes for the selected group of temporary contractual workers from the Philippines and India who are entering the United Arab Emirates in order to begin work in the construction, hospitality and healthcare sectors.

  • These initiatives will be sensitive to the different needs of male and female workers and:
  • Provide post-arrival counseling and hotline assistance in the language of the workers;
  • Establish a team of officials who can help temporary contractual workers defend their rights in a language they can understand;
  • Provide information and assistance in transmitting remittances through affordable, safe, and fast channels;
  • Monitor working conditions and alert authorities to any problems which are discovered;
  • Establish appropriate dispute resolution mechanisms that promote employer-worker cooperation;
  • Develop a mutually acceptable system of addressing the needs of workers who have legitimate reasons to leave their first place of employment.

Phase III: Facilitating the Return Home.  The project management team in the United Arab Emirates will develop initiatives to prepare selected workers for their return to their country of origin, including measures such as:

  • Effectively identifying workers whose contract is about to expire;
  • Creating gender-sensitive information centers for workers wishing to return home so that they can better understand what resources can be provided to them by the Governments of India and the Philippines on their return home;
  • Developing a liaison service with trade unions and employers in the United Arab Emirates to ensure that workers ending their contracts receive their full salaries and benefits;
  • Presenting campaigns that encourage workers to return home after their contracts expire;
  • Putting in place pre-departure orientation sessions that can include counseling information on job opportunities and vocational training for participating workers.

Phase IV: Successful Reintegration. The project teams in India and the Philippines will take measures to:

  • Facilitate the return travel of participating temporary contractual workers;
  • Develop and make available gender-sensitive training opportunities back home;
  • Encourage investment in the local economy by returning workers by providing access to credit and developing reputable savings schemes;
  • Identify job and entrepreneurial opportunities for returning workers;
  • Provide, if necessary, counseling services for returning workers and their families.