The UAE is taking a very significant step forward over the protection of rights for people in domestic employment. Domestic workers have unique working conditions that place them at a serious disadvantage should their employer choose to abuse their rights. They work in close proximity to the employing family with little outside contact, and they do not have standard working terms since each person gets their job descriptions at their employers’ whim.
At their best this means the employees are treated as honoured family retainers, but at their worst it means that they can be abused. It is important that these issues are not unique to the UAE but are a worldwide problem that has been defined by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in its Convention 189 and Recommendation 201 on working conditions for domestic workers.
It is important to recognise that the UAE’s new draft law on domestic labour is well ahead of many other countries in that it adopts in full the ILO standards into national law. The draft law has been reviewed by the cabinet and must now go the Federal National Council for debate before final approval and enactment. The law goes into considerable detail, but it insists on some essential working conditions such as having a regular weekly day off, defined holidays of 30 days a year and sick leave similar to the Labour Law, as well as more special protection against physical or sexual abuse.
Writing such a ground-breaking law is only a first step, because it then has to implemented effectively so workers being treated illegally can seek redress. Therefore when the law is signed into existence it will be important that the many categories of people covered by the law are made aware of their rights. They include cleaning staff, nannies, drivers, as well as others who would only be found in larger households like a private PRO, household shepherd, falcon trainer, or private tutor.
Official statistics record that more than 750,000 people are employed in domestic service, which is almost 20 per cent of the total expatriate workforce, meaning that the extension of formal rights to this large sector of the workforce is a major development.
A publicity campaign will be required but it is a welcome development that the UAE has also moved to set up tribunals that will be able to hear cases quickly and find resolution, rather than seeking a long-drawn out case in the law courts.