The UAE will shut all non-government maid-hiring agencies by March to better protect the rights of workers and employers, a Cabinet minister said on Tuesday.
Nasser Al Hamli, Minister of Human Resources and Emiratisation, told members of the Federal National Council that citizens and residents would have to hire domestic workers from Tadbeer, a network of service centres.
He said 250 private recruitment agencies had been shut down and "the remaining 10 offices will be closed in March".
Tadbeer recruitment offices were set up by the ministry in 2018 and there are 54 nationwide.
Mr Al Hamli said it was the responsibility of Tadbeer offices to hire workers from abroad.
The ministry has not renewed the licences of private companies since 2017 and has fined 99 agencies that continued to operate after their licences were suspended.
On Wednesday, officials told The National that agencies located in free zones would not be affected by the decision. It is not known how many agencies trade in such zones, nor whether companies would be allowed to relocate there.
The minister responded to a question by Hamad Al Rahoomi, an FNC member for Dubai and deputy speaker of the chamber.
Mr Al Rahoomi asked why private recruitment agencies that brought in workers illegally on tourist visas and sent them to families to work as housemaids were allowed to operate.
He said the "black market" did not protect the rights of the employers or the maids.
“These businesses do not guarantee the worker will stay with the family, but when you pay just Dh10,000 for two years, this is what you can expect,” Mr Al Rahoomi said.
He said many workers quit before the end of their contract and the private agencies offered no guarantee that they would honour the contract.
“You can get such a guarantee with official recruitment agencies like Tadbeer,” he said.
Mr Al Rahoomi said private offices also failed to protect the rights of workers, because they could not ensure that salaries were paid on time.
“The old private recruitment offices are causing an imbalance,” he said.
Mr Al Rahoomi showed FNC members photos of private agencies and then compared them with modern Tadbeer offices.
Services at Tadbeer centres are more expensive, because they offer different packages and visa services. Tadbeer also offers flexible contracts, free replacements and does all the paperwork for the clients.
It also sets the salary for maids, their work hours and ensures they are paid on time each month.
“There is no room for competition; there is no way that Tadbeer centres can compete with private offices on prices,” he said.
He said smaller private companies could offer low prices because of their limited services.
All "black market" agencies must be shut down so that Tadbeer centres could reduce prices and offer quality service.
“What was the point of establishing Tadbeer centres if private recruitment agencies are allowed to operate?” he said.
He urged the ministry to follow the 2017 domestic workers’ law, which stipulated that such offices were to be closed within six months.
"More than six months have passed. It is OK some delays happened during the pandemic, but to do it late is better than not doing it at all," he said.
Mr Al Hamli said ministry officials were working to help Tadbeer bring down costs.
“Those companies [private agencies] have been operating in the country for 30 years. We will start a new page based on regulations and standards that respect human rights,” he said.
“We recently had a meeting with Tadbeer centres to lower their operational costs. We will revise their fees every year to make them more competitive.”