Five GCC members met in Cairo on Sunday to begin working towards a common policy on employment of foreign domestic workers.
The representatives from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman, meeting on the sidelines of the 45th session of the Arab Labour Conference (ALC), agreed to establish standard regulations on transfer of employment, contracts and minimum wage.
The GCC hosts millions of domestic workers, mostly from South-east Asia and the Indian subcontinent, who make up a sizeable component of the expatriate workforce and send millions of dollars annually in remittances to their home countries.
Kuwait’s minister of social affairs and labour, Hind Al Sabeeh, said there was agreement on taking immediate steps to ease friction in the domestic labour market throughout the GCC.
The minister, who was elected to the board of the ALC last week, spoke of an “automated system between labour-sending countries and GCC-member states”.
Although he did not go into details, the system is believed to aimed at preventing recruiters from charging extortionate fees to job-seekers and to employers the GCC country.
Recruiters in the domestic workers' home countries often charge more than US$3,000 (Dh11,000) to provide them jobs in GCC countries. Despite the high fees, the candidates are willing to pay since a domestic worker’s salary in a GCC state compares favourably to what even skilled workers make in their home country. For example, a computer engineer would earn only about 49,000 pesos (Dh3,500) in the Philippines.
The high charges demanded by these recruitment agents in turn drives up the fees domestic help agencies in the GCC have to charge their clients.
The ministers are looking to remedy the situation so that both sides of the employment process are made more transparent and less susceptible to extortion.
Mr Al Sabeeh said measures under the new system were to be considered for approval ahead of the Geneva meetings of the International Labour Organisation in late May.
The Minister of Human Resources and Emiratisation, Nasser Al Hamli, said the GCC agreement would include working with various labour-providing countries to ensure the rights of domestic workers.
"The domestic workers constitute an important part of the temporary employment in the Gulf countries, which are keen on protecting the labour rights, through applicable laws and practices," Mr Al Hamli said.
He said the countries would seek "to ensure the application of fair and transparent recruitment practices that could address any negative practices which the workers may suffer from in their homelands before working in the Gulf countries".
The GCC has witnessed numerous cases of murder, rape and other abuses of foreign domestic workers.
Such violations have even prompted President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, an important source of foreign labour in the GCC, to stop sending citizens to region.
In the most recent case, he imposed a ban on Filipinos taking up work in Kuwait after the body of Joanna Daniela Demafelis, employed as a maid, was found on February 6 in a freezer in a Kuwait City apartment that had reportedly been abandoned for more than a year.
A Lebanese-Syrian couple were convicted of her murder in their absence and sentenced to death.
Kuwait has since worked with the Philippines government to guarantee more rights for the approximately 250,000 Filipinos working in the Gulf state.
The UAE last year set up a special prosecution unit to try cases that involve the abuse of Filipino domestic workers after talks with the Philippines government.