Hiring part-time maids may be costly, but is convenient for some families in Dubai. Image for illustrative purpose only. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Dubai: A shortage of housemaids and nannies due to a ban on certain nationalities has encouraged recruitment agencies to increase their fees — which in turn has led to the development of a black market in maids in the UAE, market sources said.

Gulf News has learnt the ban on visas for Ethiopian domestic and blue-collar workers to the UAE, which was imposed in July last year, will continue and the market has failed to find maids with similar traits.

The Ethiopian government banned women from coming to the UAE to work as maids following a series of complaints about abuse.

Sources from the UAE, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the issue of Ethiopian maids was a common problem between the UAE and Ethiopia.

“Ethiopian maids are becoming the most runaways maids in the country. They commit crimes more than any other nationality and there are cases of their rights being abused as well,” a source said.

Officials from the residency and foreigners’ affairs departments in two emirates told Gulf News that the UAE will only issue visas for Ethiopians who hold high school certificates.

But residents in turn have complained that the ban on Ethiopian domestic helpers has meant labour recruitment agencies in the country are now charging thousands of dirhams from clients looking for maids or nannies of any nationalities.

Residents said recruiting part-time maids is becoming more expensive. The price per hour for a helping hand used to be Dh20-25 a year ago and has become Dh40 and above in recent months.

Others, who hire part-time maids working on their own, said maids were not available in the market any more as many of them were illegal and are currently leaving the country to benefit from the amnesty.

Residents said there was a shortage of maids in the UAE which means recruitment agencies are able to control and manipulate the domestic helpers market and ignore the rules set by the authority which regulates the hiring of maids.

Recruitment agencies are charging clients more than Dh10,000 for maids. A year ago, the process of hiring a maid cost Dh5,000.

“I was told by a recruitment agency that I have to pay Dh10,000 to get housemaid from the Philippines or Indonesia,” a working mother of three small children said.

Lakshmi from India said that she desperately needed a housemaid because she works all day in her beauty salon in Dubai.

“I have to pay also for the residency department’s fees and deposit which will exceed Dh12,000,” she said.

Lakshmi said this was unfair and there should be a control on labour agencies.

“Labour agencies are aware that there is ban on housemaids of many nationalities including Indian, Bangladeshi, Ethiopian and it is even hard to get Indonesian maids,” she said.

Amani from Lebanon said a labour agency in Dubai told her that after sponsoring a housemaid there would be no refund.

“The owner of the labour agency told me ‘take it or leave it’,” she said.

Amani said that she told the owner at the labour agency that there were regulations controlling the employment of maids but the owner said it was his agency and he was the one who set the rules and no one else.

“This is rude and must be followed by authorities who should set the rules for recruitment agencies and follow the implementation of those rules,” she said.

Mustafa, who owns a labour recruitment agency in Dubai, said there was a huge demand for Ethiopian housemaids.

“Due to the ban on some nationalities who provide domestic helpers, including Ethiopian maids, we have to increase charges,” he said.

He said many people were asking for Ethiopian maids.

“We have not been informed yet by the authorities here if they will or will not lift the ban on Ethiopian maids and workers,” he said.

He said that labour agency owners believe that the ban was enforced last year when one Ethiopian maid killed her compatriot maid in Abu Dhabi.

According to sources from the Ethiopian consulate some Ethiopian maids who manage to get tourist visas to the UAE are turned down and banned from boarding the plane in Ethiopia.

The source said Ethiopia bans its citizens from jobs in the UAE and the ban will stay until a labour agreement between the two countries has been signed.

Last year Ethiopia called for an agreement with the UAE government to prevent what it called “exploitation by deceitful recruitment agents and abusive employers from recruiting Ethiopian nationals”.

The government banned its citizens from applying for work permits in the UAE.

Under Ethiopian government rules domestic and migrant worker contracts must be attested by the Ethiopian mission in Dubai, and employers have to provide medical insurance.

Gulf News repeatedly requested the Ministry of Interior and the General Directorate for Residency and Foreigners Affairs in Abu Dhabi to comment on the ban on Ethiopian domestic helpers, on the black market created by the labour recruitment agencies and on the agreement which was supposed to be signed between the UAE and Ethiopian government last year but no official was able to reply to Gulf News’ inquiries.