Ethiopia wants Dh1,200 minimum wage for its citizens in the UAE

East African country aims to sign a new labour agreement, including minimum wages, with the UAE soon.

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DUBAI // Ethiopian officials are proposing a minimum wage of Dh1,200 for its citizens, which is almost double the amount many of them are paid, in a labour agreement the east African nation hopes to conclude with the UAE.

The Ethiopian consulate in Dubai will also recommend a refundable deposit that sponsors would pay and a toll-free number for its nationals in distress.

“Our proposal is to double the salary,” said Fiseha Afewerki, deputy consul general. “Medical insurance and a guarantee of return [flight] tickets is in the agreement.

“We will consider a refundable guarantee and a toll-free number for them to contact the consulate.”

Addis Ababa banned its domestic workers from seeking employment in the UAE in July last year until a deal was in place to protect them from abusive recruiters and employers.

The following month, at the consulate’s request, the UAE stopped issuing visas for Ethiopian domestic workers. The ban applies to new workers and not those who are already employed in the UAE.

But last month Ethiopia announced its citizens would not be allowed to move anywhere overseas, citing human-trafficking concerns.

“Human trafficking is immense in Ethiopia,” Mr Afewerki said. “They are taken from Ethiopia to the Middle East by people not legally authorised.

“They take them to places through illegal ways – by sea and through deserts like the Sahara. Many perish on the way to the Middle East.

“The government decided to stop this movement for a while because people are dying before reaching their destination. This is in order to tackle human trafficking to not just the UAE, but the Middle East in general.”

A meeting between the two countries, either here or in Ethiopia on December 18 and 19, may change that and reopen the opportunity for workers to come to the UAE.

“In principle, both sides have completed their assignment in legal terms of the agreement,” said Mr Afewerki. “Now, higher officials from both countries have to sign a cooperation agreement.

“Labour issues will be included in this. We hope both sides will have a meeting in December and discuss common issues.”

Ethiopian workers in the UAE said they would welcome a minimum wage.

“Actually, the salary should be Dh1,500,” said Japal, who did not want to disclose her full name. “There should be more protection for workers.”

Another worker said the current ban was a good idea.

“The ban shouldn’t be for too long, however,” said Tigustu, who earns Dh600 a month. “The two countries should help improve conditions for us.

“If our salaries are Dh1,500 or more, it is good. If medical insurance is also made compulsory, that would be very good for us.”

Desta Mulegeta, who has been working as a housemaid for two years, said it was important that domestic workers were better protected.

“Although working here has its advantages, the problems we face are high,” Ms Mulegeta said. “It is good to have the ban to avoid these problems. We need to be protected from abuses.”

Sponsors of Ethiopian housemaids agreed.

“Their labour is being exploited,” said Jillian, who did not give her full name. “There is mistreatment, their wages being withheld. A minimum wage is definitely important as their labour is being used.”

Jillian said she paid her housemaid Dh1,300, in addition to monthly travel costs and expenses for toiletries.

An estimated 100,000 Ethiopians live in the UAE. The consulate said it received complaints regularly from those working as maids.

“We receive 10 to 15 complaints a month reporting abuse, rape, with complaints of not being paid or being beaten by employers,” said Mr Afewerki said.

“Agents here and in Ethiopia are part of the problem. Agents in Ethiopia are not licenced and agents here are also collaborators and not on the side of victims. Immigration, police and courts in the UAE are in favour of the victims.”

If the labour deal is signed, Ethiopians will be given basic skills training on working in the UAE, and information on quality of life and culture.