The picture is used for illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: XPRESS/Gulf News

Dubai: You are flirting with danger if you hire domestic help illegally. The law on illegal recruitment in the UAE is unsparing, with penalties going up to Dh100,000, coupled with a possible jail term and subsequent deportation. A couple learnt this the hard way recently when they employed a Sri Lankan maid to clean their Deira apartment and gave her the house keys so she could let herself in while they were out at work.

All was well until one day they returned home to find the maid unconscious in the bathroom.

"She had suffered a brain haemorrhage while working," recalled Joseph Bobby, Vice-President of the NGO Valley of Love. When the couple rushed her to hospital, they let on that they had hired the maid as part-time help. It was an illegal recruitment and they had to pay a price: a hefty Dh50,000 in fines. Earlier, a Sharjah-based Egyptian resident was thrown behind bars for employing a housemaid who was not on his sponsorship.

Yet despite the dreadful consequences, the practice of illegal hiring and loaning of workers remains rampant in the country. Residents freely draw from a pool of labour - mainly Indians, Sri Lankans, Filipinos, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and Indonesians. These workers are not just easily available but also considered cheap and hassle-free as they require no documentation.

Besides illegal workers overstaying without valid permits, there are those who have papers in place but double up as part-time help for employers other than their sponsors.

Unlike regular channels of employment like registered recruitment agencies and direct sponsoring, these workers are secured through word of mouth references by watchmen, neighbours and friends. For as little as Dh500 a month, they do everything from washing cars, cooking and cleaning homes to working in commercial establishments.

Tricky situation

The clandestine arrangement could spell trouble in more ways than one. It's a Catch 22 situation for employers if the illegally hired help commits a theft or any other offence. They would refrain from approaching the police as they are on the wrong side of the law themselves. An Indian family which thought it could beat the system by installing a CCTV camera to spy on their illegally hired help found itself in a tricky situation last year after the footage caught the help stealing. But they did not report it to the police as they feared the repercussions.

A similar predicament faced a family in Jumeirah when their maid walked away with valuables worth thousands of dirhams. Since she was illegally recruited, they did not lodge a complaint.

Police records reveal that housemaids committed 1,686 crimes in Dubai over the past three years, including 272 offences in the first half of 2011. Obviously, these numbers would have been much higher if unreported cases were taken into account.

Dubai police have repeatedly cautioned residents against hiring "cheap but dangerous labour" saying they top the list of thefts in the country. But the warnings seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

Many residents whom XPRESS spoke to admitted ignorance about the procedures of employing help. A family in Bur Dubai got a rude shock when their Bangladeshi help who had been with them for two years did not show up one morning. It turned out that he had courted arrest as his visa had expired and he was overstaying.

"It hadn't occurred to us that he would do something like this. We should have checked his papers," said the lady of the family, oblivious to the fact that she was guilty of employing an illegal immigrant.

Enlisting the help of workers sponsored by others is also common. For example, Lal, a middle-aged Indian cook, is on the visa of a local sponsor. He is supposed to be working in a villa at a salary of Dh1,100. But at least five other families use him as a part-time cook, each paying him Dh500 a month.

The amount is a steal compared to what they would have to pay otherwise given the stringent regulations of different countries from where domestic help can be employed (See box).

Minimum wage

In the case of Indian maids, M.P. Singh, Consul Labour at the Indian Consulate, said, "Under stringent provisions, housemaids are entitled to a minimum salary of Dh1,100, besides free food, accommodation and return airfare every year and a pre-paid mobile phone with SIM card on her arrival in the UAE."

He said the employer also has to pay a refundable security deposit of Dh9,200 which is kept with the Consulate.

But many employers consider the process cumbersome and costly. It's not just about minimum wages and security deposit, but also the cost of visa and medical tests. They claim there is little protection for the sponsor if things go wrong.

A case in point is that of Iraqi IT consultant Zina who was left aghast when an Indonesian maid she hired from a local agency for Dh15,000 ran away while she was at work. The door of the apartment was left open, even as Zina's two daughters, 10 and 7, slept inside.

"The agency alone charged me Dh6,800. I paid Dh5,215 for the maid's residence visa, Dh755 for the entry permit, Dh605 for a change in visa status and Dh2,000 as servant deposit," said Zina. If that was not bad enough, she also ended up paying Dh230 as ‘deportation of violator's fee' and Dh130 as exit passenger fee when she filed a complaint. "This is so unfair. I cannot afford the huge costs. On top of it, I have no guarantees. Surely there has to be some way in which sponsors can protect themselves," she said.

Part-time workers supplied by local agencies are expensive with hourly charges ranging between Dh20 and Dh35. Cleaning agency. Maids.ae said the services of its workers could be availed for Dh35 per hour at a minimum of four hours per day. Add Dh80 if they bring their own cleaning material. Similar prices are quoted by Mollymaid, one of the oldest maid service agencies in Dubai.

According to Singh, much of the problem of illegal workers arises because sponsors illegally retain their passports. "Withholding of passports is something that needs to be revisited by authorities as it is not only illegal but also constricts workers' rights to change jobs on the completion of two years with an employer," he said.

  • 1,100: dirhams, the minimum salary for indian maids
  • 1,686: crimes were committed by maids in the uae in the last three years
  • 6,000:  dirhams is the minimum salary required to sponsor a maid
  • 900: is the number of illegal domestic help arrested in dubai so far this year
  • 50,000:  dirhams is what you may have to cough up in fines for hiring an illegal maid
  • 20-35: dirhams per hour is the fee of part-time workers supplied by local agencies

Getting It Right

The employment of domestic workers requires a full-fledged work contract which is valid for one year with an option to renew it. The contract governs salary, vacation, air tickets, medical care and terms in case of a breach.

A maid's visa can be obtained by the head of the family, whose salary is not less than Dh6,000 a month or Dh5,000 plus accommodation. Bachelors are not eligible to sponsor a maid.

Currently, maids can be obtained only from India, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Ethiopia, each of which has its own stipulations for minimum wages, age and other working conditions.

For example, Indian maids command a minimum salary of Dh1,100, while the rate for Filipinas is Dh1,400, Sri Lankans Dh825, Indonesians Dh800 and Bangladeshis Dh750.

The employment of maids is subject to approval by the Dubai General Department for Residency and Foreigners Affairs (DGDRFA). In addition, an affidavit from the home country's embassy/consulate certifying that the maid is not related to the sponsor is essential. If a family needs more than one maid, the DGDRFA reserves the right to decide depending on the size of the family, income levels, etc.

Minimum salary for maids in UAE

  • Filipina……………………Dh1,400
  • Indian………………………Dh1,100
  • Sri Lankan…………………Dh825
  • Indonesian………………Dh800
  • Bangladeshi…………………Dh750
  1. As many as 8,500 illegal residents were arrested in Dubai this year. Of them, 900 were known cases of domestic help