UAE Approves Draft Law on Domestic Workers to Stop 'Slave-Like' Conditions

Published June 1st, 2017 - 09:50 GMT
The law extends safeguards to domestic workers against physical, verbal and sexual abuse, as well as human trafficking and forced labor. (AFP/ File)
The law extends safeguards to domestic workers against physical, verbal and sexual abuse, as well as human trafficking and forced labor. (AFP/ File)

The UAE's Federal National Council has approved a draft law stipulating the essential working conditions for domestic workers, including a regular weekly day off, 30 days of paid annual leave and the right to retain personal documents, including passport, ID card and work permit.

The new bill, which requires final approval by President Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan to become law, also provides for a daily rest of at least 12 hours, including at least eight consecutive hours. 

In a bid to ensure decent working and living conditions for domestic workers, who outnumber family members in nearly a quarter of Emirati families, the new legislation seeks to regulate the domestic worker industry in line with international standards, Saqr Ghobash Saeed Ghobash, Minister of Human Resources and Emiratisation, noted.

Azza Sulaiman, Chairwoman of the FNC Human Resources Committee, said the new proposals align the UAE’s laws with the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 189 and Recommendation 201 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers.

According to the draft law, domestic workers must be extended rights to equality and non-discrimination based on race, colour, sex, religion, political opinion or national or social sect.

The rules also extend safeguards to domestic workers against physical, verbal and sexual abuse, as well as human trafficking and forced labour in keeping with UAE’s laws and international conventions ratified by the country.

There are around 750,000 domestic workers in the UAE, making up nearly 20 percent of the expatriate workforce, according to official statistics. As many as 65 percent of them are based in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah. They outnumber family members in 22 percent of Emirati families.

The law promotes decent work conditions for domestic workers, including social protection and access to specialised tribunals at the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation and courts. It sets 18 years as a minimum age for a domestic worker, which is consistent with the international rules on elimination of child labour.

New recruitment agencies

Placement agencies have to ensure that the domestic workers are informed of the terms and conditions of their employment such as the nature of work, the workplace, the remuneration and the period of daily and weekly rest as set out by the executive regulations before they cross their national borders.

The new centres called Tadbeer, which will replace domestic worker recruitment agencies by the end of the year, will guarantee proper visa, orientation and training for the workers, Ghobash said.

Ghobash added that 65 private companies applied to operate the centres, whose services will be mandated and regulated by the ministry.

According to the new draft law, “A model contract accredited by the Ministry of Human Resources will be signed by the employer and the employment agency, setting out job description and qualifications of the worker as well as obligations of the employer. This contract will also detail the financial obligations towards the worker travelling to the UAE, the fees of the agent and the period required to bring in the employee.”

If the agent fails to honour the obligations set out in the contract, the employer shall have the right to decide against offering the job to the worker. The agent will then bear the cost of sending the worker back to his/her home country.

The employer also has the right to claim compensation for any inconvenience caused by the agent’s failure to meet the contract’s terms.

A domestic worker, the draft law states, may be engaged on probation for six months, during which his or her service may be terminated by the employer with the placement agency bearing the cost of sending the worker home if necessary.

The placement agent has to repay all fees if the contract is revoked of the worker’s own will, because of the worker or because the agreed terms of the employment contract are not honoured.

Wage protection system

Remuneration, which has to be communicated to the worker and agreed by him or her before travelling to the UAE, has to be paid no later than the 10th of the following month and a receipt is signed upon every payment. The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation may introduce a more suitable wage protection system.

No amount of money may be deducted from a worker’s salary or end-of-service gratuity except for a debt payable in execution of a court ruling or repair of any damage caused by the worker, provided that the deduction shall not exceed a quarter of the worker’s salary. If a dispute arises, it has to be settled by the special tribunals at the Ministry of Human Resources or be referred to the court. 

The new professions under the domestic helpers category (only for households, not companies) are housemaid, private sailor, watchman and security guard, household shepherd, family chauffeur, household horse groomer, household falcon carer and trainer, domestic labourer, housekeeper, private coach, private teacher, babysitter, household farmer, private nurse, private PRO and private agriculture engineer.

By Samir Salama

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