Picture for illustrative purposes: domestic worker Image Credit: Antonin Kelian Kallouche/Gulf News Archives

Abu Dhabi: The UAE has started security background checks of domestic workers applying for new work visas, Nasser Bin Thani Al Hameli, Minister of Human Resources and Emiratisation, told the Federal National Council on Tuesday.

Nasser Bin Thani Al Hameli

“Security checks are now covering all new work permits for domestic workers recruited from Kenya and they will be gradually enforced on all domestic workers,” Al Hameli told the House.

He was answering a question from Kifah Mohammad Al Zaabi, a member of the House from Sharjah about the measures taken by the Human Resources ministry to check security background and mental health of domestic workers.

Al Zaabi affirmed the security and mental vetting is a mean of judging a job candidate’s past mistakes, character, and fitness, and to identify potential hiring risks for safety and security reasons and to ensure the safety and security of the employees as well as their employers.

Al Hameli said mental health checks are very important issue and were included in the provisions of international agreements signed with more than 13 countries.

“We endeavor to make these mental checks mandatory for domestic workers in the future,” Al Hameli said without setting any timeline as to when these check will be enforced.

The Federal National Council has repeatedly suggested to the authorities that domestic workers undergo mental health and police background checks requiring that domestic workers, including housemaids, family chauffeurs, private sailors, household shepherds and farmers undergo mental health and police background checks and that the workers’ probationary period be increased to one year to allow employers to get to know their hired help better, check their character and behaviour, and their ability to carry out their duties.

Members of the House said that proposal was prompted by personal experiences and stories told by other constituents about a good segment of a population that outnumbers family members in nearly a quarter of Emirati families.

A member said he had to send a housemaid back to the replacement agency after she showed mental impairments including unstable and threatening behaviour, and failed to do household chores and other activities associated with everyday life.

“The domestic help have to undergo mental health evaluations and those judged mentally defective or committed to a mental institution should not be allowed to take the job. A mental health check will help protect our families from those mentally ill workers,” the member said.

A motion has to be adopted by the House and submitted to the Cabinet for approval.

There are more than 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.

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 and the remuneration, according to a domestic workers contract that came into force in 2014.

FNC members argued proposal was also prompted by the rising number of absconding domestic workers which, he said, have security and social implications for the employer’s family and the entire society because nobody knows where the housemaid may go or what she would do to stay out of sight.

Domestic workers tend to flee their employers’ homes after complaining of being mistreated, overworked and unpaid.