DUBAI // Families who want a maid are being advised to pay salaries below the minimum wage set by the workers' home countries.
The push for lower pay - sometimes hundreds of dirhams less - comes from the very recruitment agencies who bring housemaids to the UAE.
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The Philippines government has fixed the minimum monthly wage for a maid working overseas at US$400 (Dh1,470).
A small number of agencies do specify this amount but most quote much lower salaries.
Typical figures are Dh1,100 for an experienced Filipina maid and Dh1,000 for a first-timer - although one agency recommends just Dh900 or Dh800, depending on experience.
The Bangladesh government's minimum is Dh750 but the same agency advises employers to pay either Dh600 or Dh500, again depending on experience.
Most agencies tell maids they cannot have a mobile phone, meaning they cannot call their families, and advise employers not to let maids leave the house alone.
A resident interested in hiring a maid called a number of agencies in the UAE.
One quoted an initial fee of Dh7,500 for a woman from the Philippines, which would include the cost of a one-way flight from Manila and document processing but not visa charges.
"We need Dh3,750 when you bring the original visa and then another Dh3,750 when you pick up the housemaid," said the agency.
"We have a three-month guarantee - in case of sickness or pregnancy you can return the housemaid to our office."
When asked what salary the maid should be paid, the agency said: "Salary is Dh1,000 for no experience, with experience it's Dh1,100."
The resident asked if he should give the maid a day off each week and was told: "You should observe the housemaid for maybe a few months and if she's OK that's the time you'd give her a day off.
"But inside your house only - do not allow her to go out alone because she will meet other people and there could be problems, and also to protect the sponsor because the sponsor will pay much money to bring a housemaid here to the UAE."
Official salary levels for domestic workers vary depending on which country they come from.
The minimum for Indonesian maids is Dh800 a month and a number of agencies quoted this figure for experienced staff from that country.
But those that did said an inexperienced Indonesian maid should be paid only Dh700.
One agency said: "They are informed they are not allowed to use mobiles and they are not allowed to go out by themselves, meaning to say no day off.
"We say we are not allowing them to have a day off, so they are aware of that.
"Regarding the hours, as long as the sponsor is still awake they have to work. If the sponsor still needs the help of the housemaid she cannot sleep. But of course they can take a rest, they will not be working for 24 hours."
Problems with recruitment agents are not confined to the UAE but are widespread across the region, according to John Leonard Monterona, the Saudi Arabia-based coordinator of the Middle East branch of Migrante International, a group that assists Filipina maids who need help.
"Abuses by recruitment agencies are happening in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait and Qatar," he said.
"Out of every 10 domestic workers coming to the Gulf, seven or eight of them will have problems with agencies as far as contracts are concerned.
"Based on the cases we are handling right now and in previous months, the UAE has a much better political culture than other countries and employers are educated and considerate towards migrant workers.
"But there is much to be do in terms of providing protection and ensuring the welfare and wellbeing of migrant workers."