DUBAI // Nepalese housemaids and nannies will soon return to work in the UAE, but only after embassy officials have put standards in place to ensure they are treated fairly.
Kathmandu announced last week that it intended to lift a 10-year ban on women coming to the Gulf to work as housemaids and babysitters. The move should take effect within about two months.
"We will recommend a minimum wage and stipulate working hours to our government after reviewing steps adopted by other countries," said Dipak Adhikari, the deputy chief of mission at the Nepalese Embassy in Abu Dhabi.
"We will also look at the option of providing medical insurance for workers."
Embassies in other Gulf countries, where Nepalese domestic workers are also banned, are conducting similar reviews.
Nepal stopped letting domestic workers come to the Gulf in 2000 after complaints of sexual abuse, harassment, long working hours and unpaid salaries.
Despite the ban, a steady trickle of workers is smuggled by agents through neighbouring countries, according to Mr Adhikari. About 2,000 Nepalese women are thought to be working illegally as housemaids in the UAE.
This, he said, was one of the main reasons for lifting the ban, as illegal workers were difficult to monitor and therefore open to abuse.
Nepalese authorities said they were "treading cautiously" in an effort to ensure that the welfare of workers was protected.
Domestic workers do not fall under the UAE labour laws, and are bound only by the contracts they sign with their sponsors.
In 2007, the UAE enforced a new unified contract for domestic staff, mandating a month's annual holiday, medical care and timely salaries. A specialised unit with the Department of Naturalisation and Residency was set up to oversee disputes.
Kavita, a 28-year-old Nepalese housemaid, welcomed the decision from Kathmandu, but said domestic staff's welfare still depended solely on their sponsors.
"If the sponsor forces us to work long hours or fails to pay our salaries on time, it is really difficult for us," she said. "I ran away from my employer's house after I was made to work for nearly 16 hours a day. They agreed to pay me Dh800 a month, but paid only Dh700."
Kavita came to work in Dubai in February this year, but left after working for about four months. She is hoping to find another job, or will have to return home.
Nepalese officials said employers would have to comply with certain rules set by their government while employing domestic workers.
"We need to see what is acceptable to the housemaid and the sponsor. They cannot recruit them and make them work like slaves. They will have to treat them humanely," said Mr Adhikari.
The review will also consider the methods adopted by other countries, including making background checks on sponsors and minimum wages.
Several other Asian countries already apply these provisions: Sri Lankan housemaids in the UAE must be paid at least US$250 (Dh900) while Indians must earn at least $300 and Filipinas should be paid $400.
Some Nepalis, however, are sceptical about the move. "It is not easy to monitor workers in countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, where abuse is rampant," said Loknath Subedi, who works for a foreign exchange company in Dubai. "It is not so problematic in the UAE. However, it is difficult to protect all workers and monitor their welfare."
Chandra Prasad Sapkota, who runs a construction company in Dubai, said: "Housemaids are not educated and do not always know their rights. Embassies should be well equipped and have sufficient resources to protect them."