As more families move towards hiring househelp for their day to day lives, the necessity to treat maids with dignity is becoming more important than ever. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: From flat screen TVs to satellite packages, access to the pool, in-house parties, WiFi connectivity, and designer clothes, some housemaids live the high life, while their employers speak up against reports that most maids are subject to abuse by their employers.

Suniya, a 24-year-old from Thailand, has been working for a French family for the past three years. Unlike some of her peers, Suniya earns Dh2,500 a month, plus benefits. "I get two days off each week, an annual ticket back home, all meals, and then some stuff my friends don't.

"My employers gave me a flat-screen TV with a link to their satellite channels, access to WiFi in the villa and their old laptop. Plus I get a bonus each Christmas and Easter," she says.

Her room in the family's three-bedroom villa in The Springs has new furniture which she was allowed to choose.

In nearby Dubai Marina, another maid admits to living it up. Working six days a week for a British family with two young children, Indira's job is one that she best describes as a dream come true. "I wake up each morning, get the kids ready for school, and then have the entire day to do as I please. No one keeps an eye on me or monitors my goings by the minute. As long as the house is clean and dinner ready on weekdays, they are happy. Moreover, on weekends, we go to the beach as a family, and when my employers go on short holidays, they are happy to leave me home alone, with full pay, knowing that I would never abuse their privilege. My ma'am often gives me the clothes that don't fit her any longer, and most of them are really nice brands from shops like Debenhams and Zara."

While Indira may well be living out her dream, her employers have their side of the story. Requesting not to be named, they say they got lucky with someone as reliable and trustworthy as Indira. "We can leave jewellery and money wherever we want to, and never have to worry about anything. Plus, she's amazing with our children. She deserves every bit of her bonus and whatever add-ons we can afford," says the couple.

As more families move towards hiring househelp for their day to day lives, the necessity to treat maids with dignity is becoming more important than ever.

"This is the woman who looks after our children in our absence," says Kapil S., a Springs resident. "I would do whatever it takes to keep her happy. If it's a BlackBerry she wants, it's a BlackBerry she'll have," he says of the birthday gift he bought her two months ago.

With more people subscribing to this school of thought, authorities believe that crime figures in the country's domestic violence cases will reduce.

Crimes by housemaids

According to Dubai Police statistics, about 665 crimes were committed by housemaids in Dubai in 2010, of which 305 were absconding cases.

"I'll never understand these figures," says Mirdif resident Rainn W. "My maid, if I even dared call her that, is perhaps one of the most important people in my life. She looks after my husband and me, she loves our dog to bits, she takes care of the house as though it was hers, she does the groceries out of her own pocket… A woman like that is a treasure. She's the glue that holds us together. We do what we do because she takes care of all the other stuff that would otherwise weigh us down. In exchange, what's the least I can do to show my appreciation, besides vocalising it? I see to it that she has everything she needs. She has her own plasma TV with all the Filipino channels, I share my laptop with her, she has the freedom to call anyone home whenever she wants to, and I'll go out of my way to entertain her guests. She never needs to ask, only inform, when she wants to use the house for a little party of her own. We'll get out of her hair for that evening. I can't afford to pay her a large salary but I make up with everything else that I can. The key is for her to realise that she's a part of our family. Personally, I would take offence at someone calling her my maid. It's her house as much as it is mine," says the lifestyle counsellor who admits to paying for her maid's flight tickets every time she wishes to travel anywhere, not just within the stipulated period.

According to the UAE Labour Law, it is the liability of the employer to fly the maid into the country and, after two years of employment, provide a return ticket to her home country. While for some it's too much to ask, a few go over and above the requirements.

Take the case of Gloria, a Filipino maid for a Chinese family. "Every time they go on holiday, I go too. I keep the two children entertained at night when my employers want to go out for dinner or see the nightlife of the country. In the daytime, they pay for all my expenses, including some personal souvenirs. None of the other maids I know get the same privileges," she says.

The demand for Western expat employers is high among maids in the UAE. At the time of applying it is often the maid who interviews the family to see if their lifestyle, salaries and social habits meet her requirements.

An online search in the jobs wanted section of a popular expat website features ads that clearly say "Housemaid/nanny for a European family or American family" asking for a salary of Dh2,500; and "Excellent Filipino Maid Highly Recommended by a British Expat", followed by "My excellent Filipino maid is looking for a new full time position, preferably with a Western family."

"It's no surprise these maids are looking for Western expats to live with," says Rainn. "Due to their cultural background, these expats would probably have fewer children, smaller families, would not make their maid work to the bone and would probably be more generous with their wages."

In 2009, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) had reported that "most maids in Dubai are educated to lower secondary level, speak English as a second language and receive wages ranging from Dh700 to Dh1,184 monthly [in 2009]". Fast forward to 2012, and the asking price on online websites is drastically different. Most ads which list desired compensation begin at Dh2,000, going up to Dh3,000 a month and beyond.

Rosamund, a Filipino maid who works for a Belgian family, earns Dh3,000 a month in exchange for being a 24/7 backup to the family. "I look after the kids, cook, clean, wash, iron… and in exchange, I get paid well. I get a bonus every time I go on holiday. I have an internet connection. I can have friends over in my room and we can use the swimming pool. I can go out whenever I want to, as long as I inform my ma'am a day in advance so she can make arrangements for when I'm not there."

Her employer Jaan says, "Honestly little things like a TV in her room, internet, allowing her friends over, swimming in the pool… all that is nothing compared to how easy she makes our life. When I read the horror stories about the abuse some maids suffer or the crime they inflict on their employers, I'm not surprised. What else can you expect a person to do when their employers can't even treat them with basic human dignity?"

The demand for Western expat employers is high among maids in the UAE. At the time of applying it is often the maid who interviews the family to see if their lifestyle, salaries and social habits meet her requirements.