Abu Dhabi: In a bid to ensure decent working and living conditions for a population that outnumbers family members in nearly a quarter of Emirati families, a new draft law seeks to regulate the domestic worker industry in line with international standards.
The draft law aligns the UAE's rules with the International Labour Organisation's Convention 189 and Recommendation 201 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers, which was ratified by the UAE last year.
The bill, approved by the UAE Cabinet in January, must now be passed by the Federal National Council and signed into law by President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
According to a copy of the bill obtained by Gulf News, domestic workers should receive a written contract of employment and end-of-service gratuity. Significantly, the bill makes it incumbent on the employer to pay recruitment agency fees. It also guarantees payment in cash at least once a month and at least one weekly day off.
There are around 750,000 domestic workers in the UAE, making up nearly 20 per cent of the expatriate workforce, according to the Ministry of Interior's statistics at the end of 2007. As many as 65 per cent of them are based in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah. They outnumber family members in 22 per cent of Emirati families.
In a Twitter post, immediately after the Cabinet approved the draft law, His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, said: "We have approved a new draft law for domestic workers in the UAE. The new law shall protect the rights of both workers and employers."
The law promotes decent work for domestic workers, including social protection and access to specialised tribunals at the Interior Ministry and courts. It sets 18 years as a minimum age for a domestic worker, which is consistent with international rules on elimination of child labour.
Placement agencies have to ensure that domestic workers are informed of their terms and conditions of employment, such as the nature of work, the usual workplace, the remuneration and the period of daily and weekly rest as set out by the executive regulations, before crossing national borders.
According to the law, a model contract accredited by the Ministry of Interior will be signed by the employer and the employment agency, setting out job description and qualifications of the worker as well as obligations of the employer, mainly the nature of the work and the remuneration.
This contract will also provide for financial obligations towards the worker travelling to the UAE, fees of the agent and the period required to bring in the employee.
If the agent fails to honour the obligations set out in the contract, the employer shall have the right to decide against offering the job to the worker. The agent will then bear the cost of sending the worker to his/herhome country.
The employer also has the right to claim compensation for any inconvenience caused by the agent's failure to meet the contract's terms.
The employer has to sign a model contract accredited by the Ministry of Interior with the domestic worker, with copies being delivered to the worker, the employer and the Ministry of Interior.
Arabic shall be the language of the contract. Where a foreign language is used in addition to Arabic, the Arabic version shall be regarded as authoritative.
The contract, which can extend to no more than two years and is renewable for similar periods, shall more particularly specify the date of its conclusion, the date on which work is to begin, type of the work and workplace, duration of the contract, the remuneration and how it is paid as well as any other terms required by the nature of the work.
According to the most recent global and regional estimates produced by the ILO, at least 52.6 million women and men above the age of 15 were domestic workers.
This figure represents some 3.6 per cent of global wage employment. Women comprise the overwhelming majority of domestic workers, 43.6 million or some 83 per cent of the total. Domestic work is an important source of wage employment for women, accounting for 7.5 per cent of women employees worldwide.
The law sets one year as the time-limit for different lawsuits within which an aggrieved person can approach the court for redress or justice.
A domestic worker, the law states, may be engaged on probation for six months, during which his or her service may be terminated by the employer with the placement agency bearing the cost of sending the worker home if necessary.
The placement agent has to repay all fees if the contract is revoked of the worker's own will, because of the worker or because agreed terms of the employment contract are not honoured.
But a worker shall not be put on probation more than once in the service of any employer, unless the two parties agree to engage the worker in a different job.
To address abusive practices in respect of payment of wages, the law lays down a number of principles with regard to the protection of remuneration.
Remuneration, which has to be communicated to the worker and agreed by him or her before travelling to the UAE, has to be paid no later than the 10th of the following month and a receipt is signed upon every payment.
No amount of money may be deducted from a worker's salary or end of service gratuity except for a debt payable in execution of a court ruling or repair of any damage caused by the worker, provided that the deduction shall not exceed a quarter of the worker's salary. If a dispute arises, it has to be settled by the special tribunals at the Ministry of Interior or be referred to the court.
Violators will face full force of the law
Violators of the law will receive tough penalties including prison terms and hefty fines.
- A worker who fails to keep in confidence secrets of his employer even after the term of employment shall receive a prison term of up to six months, a fine of up to Dh100,000 or both.
- Those who encourage a domestic worker to quit his job or offer shelter to him or her or stop law enforcement officers from doing their job shall receive the same penalty and the court may also order deportation after the prison term is served.
- Placement agencies which break the law shall be punished with a fine of up to Dh100,000 and recurrence of the offence will multiply the fine.
- An employer who asks a domestic worker to do a job that is not within the scope of duties indicated to perform in the contract shall receive a fine of up to Dh5,000, which will also be applicable to the worker and the employer who fail to report the employee's absence from work to the police within 48 hours.
- Cases filed by workers under this law shall be exempt from court fees at all stages of litigation and shall be heard in an expeditious manner.
- Placement agencies of domestic workers have to adjust their legal status within a year from the date this law takes effect.
Categories of domestic workers
- The new professions under the domestic helpers' category are (only for households, not companies): Housemaid, imam, private sailor, watchman and security guard, household shepherd, family chauffeur, household horse groomer, household falcon carer and trainer, domestic labourer, housekeeper, private coach, private teacher, babysitter, household farmer, private nurse, private PRO, private agriculture engineer.
- The existing professions under domestic helpers category: Maid, household farmer and family chauffeur.
Legal assurance: Rights and responsibilities
Once the law is issued, a domestic worker will be entitled to the following benefits in terms of leave:
- A weekly day off with full pay. Where circumstances require an employee to work on this day, he or she will be granted a day in lieu or receive its payment. The regulations will set out working hours and rest breaks for every type of job.
- A paid annual leave of 14 days, with any other holidays or days of absence from work on account of sickness reckoned as part of the annual leave, if such holidays fall within it. The annual leave can be carried forward to the following year and the employer has to grant a return ticket to the worker to travel home every two years. Payment for the annual leave and the travel allowance can be paid in cash to the worker who opts not to travel home.
- A domestic worker shall enjoy sick leave of up to 30 days a year and such leave shall be calculated as follows: the first 15 days with full pay, while the next 15 days will be without pay.
- Effective protection against all forms of abuse, harassment and violence and workers should also be provided with decent living conditions that respect their privacy.
- The right to revoke the contract on one's own if the employer fails to honour his or her obligations.
- Obligations of the employer shall include all terms and conditions as set out in the contract in addition to ensuring the work environment, tools and equipment are safe for the workers, who shall also be provided with proper accommodation, clothing and food, medical care, good treatment, respect and dignity, and physical safety.
- An employer may not engage a domestic worker in any work with a third party unless legal terms are met and consent of the Ministry of Interior is obtained. The employer has to pay compensation for any occupational injuries or diseases the worker may contract.
- A domestic worker shall honour all obligations set out in the contract, in addition to performing duties in person and in keeping with instructions of the employer. The employee has to exercise due care in performing his or her duties and may not be absent from work without a valid reason. The worker has to respect customs and traditions of the society and public norms.
- Orders of employees have to be met unless these orders are not within the scope of the duties the worker had undertaken to perform in the job contract, are in violation of the law or public order, endanger the worker's safety or hold him or her accountable.
- The worker has to exercise due care to preserve the employer's private properties, tools and equipment and must not use these equipment outside the workplace, unless the employer's consent is obtained.
- The employee shall also keep in confidence the employer's secrets during and after the term of employment.
Mutually binding rules
- Both employers and employees are bound to report a worker's absence from work to the nearest police station within 48 hours of it coming to light.
- The law makes it mandatory for both the employer and the employee to follow occupational health and safety regulations at all times.
Legal issues and disputes
- Inspectors may not enter the workplace or the worker's accommodation without permission or warrant from the prosecutor and unless a complaint is filed against the worker or the employer or in the event there is reasonable evidence that the law and executive regulations have been breached.
- The Minister of Interior will grant powers to law enforcement officers, who will ensure law and regulations are enforced effectively, arrest violators, inspect placement agencies and workplaces and accommodations in keeping with the law.
- If a dispute arises between the worker and the employer, they must refer it to the Ministry of Interior's specialised tribunals, which will exercise due care to help settle it amicably or refer it to the court.
- At the end of the contract, the employer has to settle all the worker's dues within ten days and, in the case of the worker's death, the employer has to repatriate the body to the worker's home country.
- A worker who completes at least a year of service will be entitled to an end of service gratuity amounting to one month's salary for each year of service.
- The employee shall forfeit entitlement to severance pay if he or she is absent from work for more than 30 consecutive days.
- Either the worker or the employer may revoke a contract of their own will if the other party fails to meet his or her obligations as set out in the contract and the law.
- If the contract is terminated by the employer, he shall provide the worker with an air ticket to travel home, a month's remuneration as a compensation and any other dues, while the worker will bear the cost of travelling home if the contract is ended because of the worker or of his own will.
- A worker will have his or her salary suspended if he or she is detained after a complaint is filed by the employer but once investigation is shelved or a final ruling is issued acquitting the worker, the wage of the entire period has to be paid. However, if the worker is incriminated, the worker will forfeit his remuneration for that period.
- If a complaint is filed against the worker by a third party and the worker is acquitted, that party will have to pay the remuneration of the worker during the detention.