A new UAE domestic labour law boosting workers' rights and clamping down on rogue recruiters and employers was brought into force on Thursday.
The updated legislation is the latest step by the government to strengthen regulations safeguarding thousands of employees ― including maids, nannies, cooks and gardeners ― across the Emirates.
The new directives expand the number of offences, which are punishable by fines and/or prison, for breaches of working conditions and rules from four to eight.
The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation said a "comprehensive legal framework" was being developed to govern employers and recruiters, ensuring contractual obligations are met over wages, accommodation and medical treatment.
New penalties being implemented include:
♦ Fines of between Dh20,000 and Dh100,000 and up to six months in prison for those who provide false information or fake documents to employ domestic helpers.
♦ People who hire unlicensed workers, recruit staff but do not provide a job, or use permits for domestic workers for purposes other than those for which they were issued, will be fined a minimum of Dh50,000 and a maximum of Dh200,000.
♦ The same penalty applies to those who close recruitment agency operations without settling wages owed to domestic workers.
♦Those who employ a worker under the age of 18 years or assist a worker to abscond or shelter absconding workers with an aim to exploit them in illegal activities face fines of up to Dh200,000.
♦ Fines of between Dh200,000 and Dh1 million and jail time of up to one year can be imposed for attempting to employ a worker ― on a full-time or temporary basis ― without a permit and misusing login credentials for the ministry's online portal.
♦ Fines related to employing unlicensed workers will be increased based on numbers of workers, up to a maximum of Dh10m.
♦ Penalties will be doubled for repeat offenders.
“The ministry is keen on building on the UAE’s achievements in supporting domestic helpers by committing to its role in overseeing the enforcing of laws, decisions, and legislation that would regulate recruitment and employment of domestic helpers in line with international best practices during the contractual period,” the ministry said.
“The new law sets a comprehensive legal framework that outlines the obligations of both parties and helps recruitment offices to provide exceptional services that achieve comfort, satisfaction, and happiness for employers and employees alike.
"It also protects the rights of domestic helpers and meets the aspirations of both parties, which contributes to reduced labour disputes and enhances the UAE’s competitiveness.”
Bolstering protection of domestic workers
Legal consultant Nida Al Masri, from Justitia Advocates and Legal Consultants in Dubai, said the powers against rule-breakers were significant.
“Its now mandatory to not only educate workers about their rights but to also help them become more aware of the official channels they can turn to for help,” she said.
“More importantly is that the changes will bring an end to individual practices that may sometimes leave many vulnerable to exploitation and in some cases forced labour.”
Law aims to boost working conditions
UAE domestic labour legislation introduced in 2017 entitles workers to full payment of wages within 10 days of its due date, one paid day off each week, 30 vacation days per year and 30 days medical leave, decent accommodation, a round ticket home every two years and guarantees possession of their own identity papers.
UAE law also states that domestic helpers must be informed of the exact nature of the work they will undertake, including their financial package, before being recruited from their home country.
Recruitment offices, whether directly or through third parties, are prohibited from accepting a commission in return for obtaining work or incurring any expenses from the domestic helpers.
Recruitment agents must also provide domestic helpers with a booklet with details of their wages or other related information to ensure that they are paid fairly.
They must also cover the cost of returning domestic helpers to their home countries and either provide a substitute helper or refund the amount paid by the employer.