The majority of Filipino household workers in the UAE are believed to be paid less than the salaries they were initially promised in their contracts, The National reported yesterday. Sometimes only half as much. Workers accept this injustice for various reasons, mainly because they hope to find a better job later on. But in practice, many are not able to improve their circumstances and some end up running away from their employers.
Paying less than promised is a serious violation of labour laws, one that sets up a situation that can lead to further exploitation and mistreatment - all behind closed doors.
Ideally, a contract violation should be easy to resolve in a court of law. But it is more complicated than that. Household workers' disputes go through a special court at the Immigration Department. Neither the Ministry of Labour nor any regular court has jurisdiction to intervene, unless there is a criminal offence.
The Immigration Department aims first to reconcile the two sides, but sends the case to the court if they fail to agree. The court will, in theory, enforce stringent measures against an employer found to be at fault, including barring him or her from hiring household workers in the future.
Household workers - possibly due to restrictions on their movement, lack of knowledge or a reluctance to use this process - often just run away from employers they consider unfair.
The process should be simplified. We recognise the efforts of the immigration court but it has limited powers, unlike the regular courts. This can be solved by extending the general labour law, which guarantees workers' rights more effectively, to domestic workers.
We should also stress that progress on this issue should not be the job of the UAE's authorities only. Other countries need to ensure that recruitment agencies at home comply with minimum wage rules set by their governments. Once recruitment agencies abide by the guidelines, then enforcing them here - and informing workers of their rights - becomes the responsibility of both embassies and the local authorities. Embassies should pursue complaints and work to solve them.
Widespread violations of labour rights are not only unjust but affect the reputation of the UAE and encourage exploitation. That's why this issue should be tackled seriously by everyone involved.