ABU DHABI // A new standard contract for domestic staff took effect on Sunday that guarantees the rights of both workers and their employers.
Recruitment agencies believe the new deal will ensure that housemaids receive the wages and benefits they have been promised, and therefore reduce the number of runaways.
Domestic staff are not protected by laws enforced by the Ministry of Labour. Their employment is regulated instead by the Ministry of Interior, which has produced the new contract.
“I’ve heard about it but we have yet to receive a copy from immigration,” said Grail Cholin, a secretary at Al Talal Services, a recruitment agency in Al Ain. “We have yet to verify the information but we’re expecting the number of runaway maids to decrease as the rights of both employer and worker will be protected under the new contract.”
“I think a standard contract for domestic workers is a good idea,” said Niema Solidarius, an accountant at Golden Corner Manpower, who is in charge of recruiting Filipina maids and nannies.
“Employers will now have to honour minimum wage if it is stated on the contract. They are paying less than the US$400 (Dh 1,469) per month to Filipina maids.”
There is widespread confusion over the cost of employing domestic staff. It varies depending on the nationality of both employer and employee.
It costs about Dh12,500 in recruitment agency fees for Emiratis to hire a maid from the Philippines, but expatriates pay more, said Marilyn Buising, who is in charge of maid recruitment at Majestic Manpower Services in Abu Dhabi.
“In addition to Dh12,500, expatriates need to pay immigration fees which is equivalent to the maid’s one year’s salary,” she said. “So if you’re paying her Dh1,500, you need to pay Dh18,000, which is non-refundable.”
Emiratis can obtain two-year visas for their maids and are exempt from those fees. Expatriates can only get visas for one year.
The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) introduced a reform package in December 2006 requiring household staff to be paid a monthly minimum wage of $400.
But Ms Cholin said the new contract would allow the employer and the maid to agree on a salary.
Sultan Al Mansouri, head of the Higher Committee for Consumer Protection, told the Federal National Council in March this year that he was aware recruitment fees had risen in the past few years, and said a standard contract could be an answer for sponsors unhappy with high recruitment fees for maids. Many residents have lodged complaints with his committee against recruitment agencies, he said.
Ms Solidarius said she hoped the contract would address the long working hours of maids.
The old contract, provided by Abu Dhabi immigration, does not mention a weekly day off. It states that "the work, including adequate breaks, is required with the agreement of both parties".
“The maids’ working hours should be fixed at eight hours daily,” Ms Solidarius said. “We hope employers will be obligated under the new contract to pay for the full cost of their maids’ medical care. Last month, an employer insisted that the maid, who underwent a surgery, should pay for it as it was not fully covered by her health insurance.”
Angel Borja Jr, the labour attache at the Philippine embassy in Abu Dhabi, said he would like to defer comment on the provisions of the amended contract.
“We are yet to see how it will fare on the ground,” he said.