Abu Dhabi: Stories about exploited or abused housemaids often paint employers in a bad light. But that’s just one side of the story.

Instances abound where employers have been at the receiving end too.

Many residents attributed this to a lack of rules to safeguard their interest.

“There are rules to protect domestic workers against abuse, but nothing for us,” lamented J. Koshy, a Dubai-based Indian entrepreneur, who hired his third housemaid in recent years. 
Sponsoring a housemaid in the UAE involves a lot of money and paperwork. Residents said it all goes down the drain when the housemaid runs away or suddenly decides to go back.

Dubai-based Indian engineer Srinivas said he was forced to put up with the tantrums of his 50-year-old housemaid as he had spent Dh15,000 to bring her from his native state Andra Pradesh.

“Within two months of the job, she wanted to go back. We tried to reason with her but she was adamant. If that was not bad enough, she was very demanding. Left with no choice, I send her back last month,” he said.

Indian expat Lissy Benson, who lives in Sharjah, said they lost Dh8,000 after their maid left them within six months.

“From day one, she was a headache. She wanted a room for herself and remained glued to the TV for most of the time. We conceded to all her demands and yet she left.”

An Abu-Dhabi-based Australian family said their Indonesian maid threatened to report them to police for harrasment when they intervened in a fistfight with other maids.

Stringent rules

Most countries have stringent regulations for overseas recruitment of domestic help.

In addition to the minimum wage, a domestic help is entitled to yearly return tickets, free food and accommodation. The regulations differ from country to country. The minimum wage for a domestic worker from the Philippines is Dh1,400, Sri Lanka Dh825 and Nepal Dh900.

The minimum wage stipulated by India is Dh1,100. A prepaid mobile phone with SIM card should be given to the housemaid upon arrival.

The sponsor is required to sign an employment contract attested by the Notary Public, Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs and the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs. To sponsor a Nepalese maid, the employer also needs a police clearance certificate.

Runaway maids

The long-drawn process gets further complicated when the maid goes absconding.

An Iraqi mother found this the hard way when her maid left the house while she was away at work, even as her two daughters, aged 10 and seven, slept inside.

“I hired her from a manpower supply agency in Sharjah after coughing up around Dh15,000. The agency charged me Dh6,800. I paid Dh5,215 for the maid’s residence visa, Dh755 for entry permit, Dh605 for change in visa status and Dh2,000 as servant deposit. But when I contacted the agency, it washed off its hands. I filed a complaint with the authorities but ended up spending more money: Dh230 as ‘deportation of violator’s fee’ and Dh130 as ‘exit passenger fee’. This is so unfair. I cannot afford the huge costs,” the woman said.

Another Dubai resident found herself in a similar situation when their Indonesian maid went missing the day her visa got stamped.

“We had spent over Dh15,000 - including Dh7,000 as agency fees to the Abu-Dhabi-based recruitment company.

“When we contacted the agency, we were told that they cannot do anything other than check if she had gone to the Indonesian Consulate. It is mystifying that there are absolutely no laws protecting the sponsor in such a situation. If the maid ran away because she was being mistreated, she would have gone to her embassy/consulate or to the agent as the agency had advised her to do so. However, she is now free to find illegal employment while we’re left to foot a huge bill,” she said.

In Sharjah, 518 housemaids ran away from their sponsors last year and ended up working as prostitutes.

It is an alarming trend among women from Asian and African countries, said Rashid Ali Majed Al Omran, Sharjah’s chief prosecutor.

Recently Dubai police arrested a runaway housemaid who masterminded a slavery ring, luring domestic workers into sex trade.

Police said her gang encouraged maids to abscond with promises of better work. Instead, they were locked up and made to sleep with men.

The embittering experience of sponsoring a maid has prompted many residents to opt for part -time help even though it’s illegal.

Residents hiring illegal housemaids could be fined up to Dh50,000.

“I know it’s wrong, but what do we do. I spent a fortune trying to sponsor a maid. It didn’t work,” said an Abu Dhabi resident.

Statistics from the Court of Naturalisation and Residency in Dubai showed that at least 70 per cent cases pending with the department’s prosecution involves housemaids.

An Indian embassy official said they are duty-bound to protect the rights of domestic workers. “They are a vulnerable and weak section of the society. It is easy for them to fall victim to an oppressive employer and they don’t have many doors to knock for help.”

“Employers have the luxury of choice whereas domestic workers don’t,” he said.

Dos and don’ts to avoid trouble with maids

Give the maid a true picture of what to expect before she comes to work for you. Make her understand she is not coming for a holiday abroad

Choose a maid who does not have an ailing husband or small kids back home. They may have genuine concerns and can easily become homesick

Wait for a month before you stamp the visa on the passport. That gives you enough time to study her behaviour and commitment to work.

Don’t let your housemaid go out unaccompanied for a long period of time. You are inviting trouble.

Always keep monthly salary slips and make your maid signs on them on their pay day. You may need to show proof at the embassy.

You Speak

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