x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Employers have a duty to help protect household staff

Crimes against maids are more common than many people realise. Employers can - and should - help protect their domestic staff.

Shakuntala had just ridden the lift to the ground floor of the apartment tower. Her employers were at work and she was in charge, as usual, of buying vegetables for their evening meal. Usually she would simply go out, purchase the necessary produce and get back to work in the apartment. But this day was different.

A white SUV pulled up to the front of the store and an older man in a kandura, wearing a sports cap and with a Bluetooth device fixed to his ear, stepped out. He whipped out an ID card, claiming to be CID.

Before Shakuntala had a chance to get a better look at his ID, he demanded that the maid show him her ID card - which she produced.

He then asked about her employee ID. That, she said, was with her employers. He then coerced her into his car. Believing him to be an official, she complied.

She realised that something wasn't right when the man flashed a knife and demanded she give up her gold chain and earrings. If that wasn't frightening enough, he then took a photo of her on his cellphone.

Once she had handed over her jewellery, he yelled at her to get out of the car, and sped away. Shaken, she walked back into the grocery store and broke down, trembling as she told the shopkeeper everything that had happened.

Sounds fictitious, doesn't it? But unfortunately this tale was narrated to me by my maid last week. The girl is my maid's daughter.

I regard all of my domestic staff as members of my own family and have always treated them as such. The fact that this happened to one of my own left me stunned.

I was not ignorant of such crimes, though I had always believed that they were rare. I must have been misinformed. These crimes are not unusual: countless maids get swindled by people who claim to be police, CID or others in authority.

The girl whose story I heard had not been harmed physically. Others aren't so lucky.

These crimes occur at an alarming rate, and many more go unreported. Victimised domestic workers are often afraid to contact authorities, fearing they might be blamed for not being diligent enough. They don't report it to their employers either, because they don't believe their employers can do much.

But employers can do a lot.

These women leave their own countries to work in our homes. They take care of our children, our families and our homes. Under our sponsorship they are comfortable in the knowledge that through their hard work they can send money home for their own children and families.

To some degree they are our responsibilities. If we are to bring people from other countries into our households, we had better be prepared to take responsibility for their lives while they reside with us. They usually don't have a support network here; employers become their primary support. It then becomes our task to ensure their safety.

How can we do that? By taking steps to ensure that nobody can take advantage of their naivety. Keep them informed and ensure they are vigilant and alert. Keep communication with your domestic staff open, so they will find it easy to come to you if they encounter problems.

If your staff have phones, programme in numbers for the police, a hospital and the Al Ameen service (or another abuse hot-line). Explain to your staff that if assaulted or harassed they can use those numbers.

Teach them not to get into a car, even if the person shows them a "police ID". They should demand to see the ID for a closer inspection. If they encounter resistance they should call you immediately, or call the police to verify the person's identity. If you can, do not send your staff out for tasks alone at dangerous times. If you need groceries plan ahead to go with her.

You may think these steps overly cautious, but they can make all the difference in protecting your staff from violent crimes.

The authorities are keen to protect all residents of the country. Services like Al Ameen are a testament to the authorities' determination that no resident suffer malicious acts.

The authorities do their part in protecting the community, but it is also the responsibility of individuals to protect themselves and others under their responsibility.

 

Nadia Aftab Noor Ali Rashed is a graduate of Beloit College in Wisconsin, US