Draft law protecting domestic workers rights hailed by embassies

The draft bill stipulating a weekly day off, 30 days' paid vacation, at least 12 hours of rest daily and the right to retain passports and identity cards was passed by the FNC early on Wednesday.

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DUBAI // Diplomats described a draft law on domestic staff rights passed by the Federal National Council as “pro-worker” and recommended firm implementation to ensure their interests are protected.

The bill, stipulating a weekly day off, 30 days’ paid holidays, at least 12 hours of rest a day including eight consecutive hours off and the right to retain passports and identity cards, was passed by the FNC on Wednesday.

Officials in embassies and consulates across the UAE welcomed the move and said enforcement would reduce common complaints about pressure to work long hours, non-payment and late payment of wages.

The diplomats wanted to know more about proposals to monitor the punctuality of salary payments.

“It is a positive development because the benefits of rest are clearly stated and passport custody will be given to workers,” said Ophelia Almenario, labour attache at the Philippine embassy in Abu Dhabi.

“One issue we have raised is non-payment of salaries on time and a mechanism to monitor wages, like in the case of labourers where they have wage protection implemented and salaries must be deposited in the bank.

As of now, we don’t know if there is a provision to this effect in the new law.”

According to the draft, wages must be paid by the 10th of the following month with a receipt signed by the worker. Tighter regulations on wage protection are expected to follow.

The draft must be approved by the President Sheikh Khalifa.

Diplomats said domestic workers would be covered by laws giving them greater protection because their employment would now be regulated by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation.

Disputes involving household staff including maids, nannies, cooks, security guards, drivers and gardeners currently fall under the Ministry of Interior.

This contrasts with the rest of the workforce who can take disputes to the Labour Court and are governed by laws enforced by the other ministry.

“The important thing is that they will be getting basic rights like other workers under the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation,” said Dinesh Kumar, first secretary at the Indian embassy.

“These changes are good and we hope they will reduce disputes because they will give access to more rights, freedom and protection.”

The law would bring relief to overworked staff, said Charitha Yattogoda, consul general for Sri Lanka in Dubai.

“We get complaints that some work all seven days, in some extreme cases they work 12 to 14 hours at a stretch,” Mr Yattogoda said.

Of the more than 250,000 Sri Lankans living in UAE, it is estimated that more than 50 per cent work as domestic staff.

Diplomats also backed enforcement of penalties from Dh10,000 to Dh100,000 and jail sentences for people who induced domestic workers to abscond from their job and placement agencies that broke the law.

“The middleman doing this will be in serious trouble,” said Arman Ullah Chowdhury, labour counsellor at the Bangladesh embassy in Abu Dhabi. There are about 70,000 Bangladeshi domestic workers in the UAE.

Pakistan ambassador Moazzam Ahmad Khan said the changes to the system were much needed.

“Passports cannot be in somebody else’s possession and this will go a long way in ensuring basic labour rights. It will give them much-needed protection against exploitation.”​