HomeFeatured BlogsU.A.E. Migrant Domestic Workers Suffer Abuse, Human Rights Watch Says

U.A.E. Migrant Domestic Workers Suffer Abuse, Human Rights Watch Says

Maids from the Philippines break their Ramadan fast at a shelter managed by Labour and Welfare officers in Dubai. The house maids live at the refuge after fleeing their employers’ homes.
Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Maids, housekeepers, nannies and other female domestic workers in the United Arab Emirates are often denied wages, have their passports confiscated, don’t get proper medical care and are even in some cases subject to physical and sexual abuse, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch.

Migrant domestic workers can do little when things go sour, the report says, because legal systems aren’t adequate and often work to the advantage of employers. Domestic workers aren’t afforded the same protections as other foreign workers under the country’s labor laws, it says.

Human rights groups have long complained about the status of millions of low-wage foreign workers in the energy-rich Gulf Arab region. Many countries, the U.A.E. included, have populations composed mostly of expatriates, many of whom are helping build up physical infrastructure and participate in other ways in the region’s economic development.

One focus of concern in recent months has been on low-paid construction workers in Qatar, where the government is spearheading a program of rapid construction of new train networks, roads, bridges, hotels and stadia ahead of the FIFA World Cup in 2022. But the plight of female migrant workers in households has long been an area of special concern because they are often specifically excluded from the ambit of regional labor laws.

HRW estimated there were at least 146,000 female migrant domestic workers in the U.A.E., and said its interviews with 99 of them yielded worrying evidence. Some were treated well, it said, but others accused their employers of withholding wages, forcing them to work long hours and denying them food and medical treatment.

HRW also cited at least 24 reports of physical and sexual abuse, and said some workers were “employed in circumstances that amounted to forced labor or trafficking.”

The U.A.E. and other Gulf countries have responded to concerns like these over the years by promising reform. The U.A.E. in recent years has changed standard contracts for migrant domestic workers and proposed a draft labor law to extend additional protections to them. The draft law has yet to be enacted.

In its report, HRW said these measures and others fell short of addressing the system’s many imperfections. The rights group recommended abolishing or changing the so-called kafala sponsorship system that ties migrant workers to their employees and enforcing an existing ban on employers holding their employees’ passports. HRW also recommended reforming laws pertaining to domestic workers to give them at least equal protections to other workers and ratifying international labor conventions that apply to domestic workers.

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(via WSJ Blogs)

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