The UAE decision to close non-government maid-hiring recruitment agencies will deter companies from exploiting domestic workers, said diplomats and voluntary groups who assist maids.
As The National reported on Tuesday, the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation said it would shut private agencies by March. Agencies based in freezones will not be affected, but there are thought to be very few.
"Some people are brought on tourist visas and this practice needs to be stopped. It is a welcome move to protect domestic employees whose well-being we need to protect," Nalinda Wijerathna, Sri Lanka's consul general in Dubai, told The National.
“We will need to understand the process that is being planned and get information about how any new system will work.”
Nasser Al Hamli, Minister of Human Resources and Emiratisation, told members of the Federal National Council on Tuesday that citizens and residents must hire domestic workers from Tadbeer centres.
Mr Al Hamli said it was the responsibility of Tadbeer to hire workers from abroad.
Tadbeer recruitment offices for domestic workers were set up by the ministry in 2018. There are 54 centres across the country.
Volunteers from the Sri Lankan Welfare Association – known as Sahana – have helped more than 100 maids who fled from their employers because of mistreatment.
“The move will prevent rogue agencies and individuals from getting people on visit visas and duping them. This will be eliminated when Tadbeer gets involved,” said Isthiaq Raziq, president of Sahana.
“Innocent people pay 200,000 to 400,000 Sri Lankan rupees (Dh4,000 to Dh8,000) to agencies, but when they come here it is not the same job they were promised.
"If the recruitment process is streamlined, it will help many cases where maids run away because of harassment by the employer," Mr Raziq said.
“We get to know when people on visit visas are physically abused and not treated humanely with the number of daily chores they are given. All these are illegally recruited.”
Recruitment agencies in Sri Lanka must register with the Foreign Employment Bureau and the embassy and consulate overseas, so a worker can seek consular assistance in the event of a dispute.
India, another big source of domestic staff for the Gulf region, appealed to workers to use an online registration system to sign up with approved recruitment agents and employers.
But there have been several cases of maids locked up and denied food by unscrupulous recruiters who lure jobseekers to the UAE.
An awareness campaign on Twitter used video messages from workers, detailing how they fled apartments where they were being held, as a warning not to trust unregistered agents.
Families who employ maids said issues need to be resolved over Tadbeer charges and for procedures to be simplified and made more flexible.
Seema Rao-Reed, a visual artist in Dubai, said the standard two-year contract did not work for people who required maids for a shorter period of up to one year.
“There is less stress if you do this through Tadbeer because you don’t worry about legalities, the insurance is covered and it guarantees fair pay to the maid,” she said.
"But if we need a maid only for six months or a year, then to pay for two years is too expensive. Tadbeer says the contract is transferable but we need to find another sponsor. With the worry about redundancies, it is not feasible to find a sponsor and get your money from the new sponsor."
An Abu Dhabi resident said the Tadbeer centres did not have sufficient information about the specific process involved in hiring a maid or details on candidates.
“Private agencies are better informed and more efficient,” said Ms Siddiqi, who gave one name. She said she was exasperated when Tadbeer was unable to answer her questions but charged Dh2,000 more than private agencies, plus a monthly fee.
The UAE plan is to begin a new chapter based on high standards and respect for human rights.
Mr Al Hamli said the ministry was working to help Tadbeer bring down costs and that fees would be revised annually to make the service competitive.
Anam Rizvi contributed to this report