But the relationship between employer and employee can be complex and delicate. Hours, pay, rights and differing attitudes towards child-rearing are problems that often crop up.
Here, The National reviews some of the most common dilemmas, and ask the experts and authorities for advice on how to best handle these situations as they arise.
Rules around weekly rest days
Legally, domestic workers are entitled to one paid day off a week. They may be employed on their weekly rest day, in which case they “shall have the right to an alternative day or a monetary allowance”, according to the Federal Law on domestic workers 2017.
Gina Dillon, founder of the UAE Helpers and Weads: Women Entrepreneurs Abu Dhabi Facebook groups, says a common source of tension is that nannies often want their weekly day off to be on a set day. However, some employers want them to be flexible.
For example, the helper may be asked to take a day off on Wednesday one week and a day off on Friday the next.
“I do know that the law says they [helpers] are entitled to specific times and specific days, and some employers want that time to be more fluid,” says Dillon. “It's like: ‘Hey, we may want to go out on Friday night, and we may need you,’ when the nanny says: ‘But Friday is my day off’.”
A set day off allows a nanny to organise her life, socialise and see her friends or husband, Dillon explains.
To guarantee they have the same day off work each week, domestic workers must make sure this is specified in their contract at the start of their term of employment, according to Faraz Salat of Al Rowaad advocates and legal consultants.
“If she has agreed on a specific day, that’s her right,” he explains. “And, in the event that she doesn’t get that, she can complain to the ministry.”
A cabinet decision in 2019 on the implementation of the federal law states the weekly rest day should be “subject to fixed times as much as possible from the start of the contract”.
It also says that, unless otherwise agreed, the employer shall not require the worker to carry out assigned duties for more than two rest days in two consecutive weeks.
When contacted by The National, the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation said domestic workers or employers can direct any legal queries to the labour claims and advisory centre on 04 665 9999.
Rules around breaks and rest time
Disputes can also flare up when a nanny's set working times are not honoured, says Carissa Valentim-Du Toit of CloudNineKids, a childcare company in Dubai.
Equally, rows can occur if nannies are failing to carry out their responsibilities or be flexible about changes in schedules, she says.
A domestic worker’s daily rest time cannot be less than 12 hours and must include eight consecutive hours of rest, according to the law.
“Breaks and eating times shall not be calculated within the real working hours,” says Salat. This is outlined in the cabinet decision 2019.
Technically, this means a domestic worker’s day can be divided into 12 hours of work and 12 hours of rest.
However, only eight hours of the 12 hours of rest have to be taken as a continuous stretch.
This means the remaining four hours of rest she is entitled to can be taken during her work shift. For example, for meals, rest and to do her own chores, says Salat.
Providing meals and accommodation
Dillon was inspired to set up the UAE Helpers Facebook group in 2013 to help match domestic workers with responsible employers after she moved to the Emirates from the US and was contacted by her neighbour’s helper, who said she did not have access to food.
“She couldn’t afford food, nobody was feeding her,” Dillon recalls.
Under the law, employers of live-in nannies must “prepare decent accommodation” for domestic workers. They must also “provide the worker’s needs of meals and clothing suitable for the performance of work”, as long as the job is full-time and unless otherwise agreed.
Live-out nannies have their visas sponsored by Tadbeer and therefore the responsibility of accommodation falls on Tadbeer, according to the call centre.
Salat says employers of live-out nannies should be able to prove, via the contractual agreement, that the nanny has agreed to take responsibility for her own accommodation.
Dealing with differences in child-rearing approaches
Discipline is another topic over which nannies and parents may clash.
Sometimes nannies can use treats to ensure the child remains happy and doesn’t cry or throw a tantrum, says Valentim-Du Toit.
“Some parents also allow children to treat nannies poorly by hitting them or throwing items at them.”
Valentim Du-Toit urges parents and nannies to have an open discussion about their approach to child-rearing at the start of the relationship.
“A nanny can carry out her duties efficiently if she has clear instructions regarding the style of care for the child, the daily routine she needs to follow and activities to be done during the day,” she explains.
“It has the same effect for parents and children – it builds trust with the carer, provides a routine to follow and ensures a cohesive household.”
Where can a domestic worker turn if they have an issue?
Domestic workers are recruited by Tadbeer, an agency regulated by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation, to come and work in the UAE.
Under the law, the recruiter is responsible for telling workers which authorities they can approach if they have a complaint regarding any violation of rights.
It is illegal for an employer to threaten a domestic worker with deportation to prevent her from claiming her rights or salary. If this happens, the helper can seek assistance from the ministry.
One mistake often made by domestic workers during disputes is to leave the employer’s house without telling them.
The employer can then file an “abscondment” complaint, which could have legal consequences for the helper and make it difficult for them to get another job, Salat explains.
“So, to flee from the situation is not the right thing to do.”
Instead, when they are hired, domestic workers should be told they can contact their recruitment office, the ministry or a pro-bono legal firm for advice if they have a dispute.
Salat said many embassies had lists of legal firms willing to provide an initial consultation on a pro-bono basis.
When does a salary need to be paid?
Domestic workers are entitled to receive their wages, as set out in the standard contract, within 10 days of the due date, according to the law.
Damage to property
If a helper damages any property in the house, the employer cannot simply deduct the cost from their salary, but must inform the ministry in real time, says Salat.
The ministry will then assess whether the damage was caused by negligence.
In many cases, where there is a good relationship between the employer and employee, they can come to an agreement, Salat says, but the employer cannot “unilaterally” deduct the employee's pay to cover the loss.
Employers or employees who want more information on their legal rights can contact the ministry on 800 60 or email email@example.com.