Families will face heavy fines for failing to guarantee the rights of domestic workers under legislation passed yesterday.
The President, Sheikh Khalifa, signed a law that sets out working hours, paid sick leave and a day off each week for all maids, nannies, gardeners and others.
New labour laws fine employers and recruiters up to Dh100,000 for failing to guarantee these rights or to those who discriminate, harass or force work on the people they employ.
The federal law covers 19 service work occupations, including sailors, guards, parking valet staff, farmers, gardeners, domestic workers, cooks and nannies, as well as private trainers, nurses and drivers.
Discrimination includes “differentiating between workers and not treating them with equality based on race, colour, gender, religion, political opinion, ethnicity or social origins”.
The same fine is imposed on recruitment agencies if they use violence against workers, fail to accurately notify workers of their job description or the value of the overall salary, or ensure their health and fitness ahead of bringing them in to the country.
The law will work to achieve balance, regulate the contractual working relationship and provide legal protection of all parties, said Saqr Ghobash, Minister of Human Resources and Emiratisation.
Recruitment agencies will be fined if they request or accept any sort of commission from the worker or a mediator.
They have to provide a decent temporary residence for the workers for as long as they are required to stay with the agency. During that period, the workers must be treated well and not be subject to abuse, and they should be briefed on what authorities they can complain to if they encounter any issues.
In late May, the Federal National Council passed the draft bill that was put forward to the President.
It set out the right to one day off a week to be spent however the employee chooses – despite opposition from some who said leaving the home should be subject to the sponsor’s approval.
It also guaranteed at least 12 hours off duty a day, including eight consecutive hours, and 30 days of paid annual leave.
Some members of the council argued that the day of rest would lead to negative consequences with housemaids. They were concerned that if maids were allowed to take a day of rest and leave their employers’ home they might become pregnant.
But Dr Saeed Al Mutawa, member for Sharjah, said: “Every human has the right to go out. This is not prison. This should not be negotiated.”
He said all of the rights set out would be in employees’ contracts and “guaranteed by law”.
For failing to give their workers the rights set out above, sponsors will face a fine of up to Dh10,000.
The law also prohibits the recruitment of anyone under 18 years old.
The move yesterday was the latest in a series of recent changes to the way domestic workers are regulated.
Until earlier this year, the Ministry of Interior oversaw their employment. This meant that at times police were called in to deal with disputes between sponsor and worker and that issues could be escalated to the criminal courts.
This was in contrast to the rest of the workforce, which is regulated by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation and can take disputes to the labour court.