x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Keep making progress for domestic staff

Protecting foreign workers' rights is not as simple as some people would like. But as a modern country, the UAE has a responsibility to live up to global norms of fairness.

Domestic employees have come a long way in recent years, so far in fact that they were the subject of debate in the Federal National Council this week.

Members of the consultative FNC expressed different opinions about issues relating to maids and their labour contracts, which have been much in the news recently.

The Philippines embassy, in particular, has been pushing for a minimum wage of $400 (Dh1,469) per month for its citizens employed as domestic staff, an issue that has concerned some people, who have complained to the FNC.

As The National reported yesterday, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Foreign Minister, told the FNC on Tuesday that other countries have every right to try to protect their citizens abroad. Emiratis who have signed contracts are bound by them: "If an Emirati signed a contract, he must respect it, regardless of whether it came from the Philippines or not."

The minister's statement reflects the country's continuing efforts to protect domestic servants. A lot has been accomplished to improve conditions and raise awareness of evolving international standards.

But there is still much to be done.

The UAE has signed the International Labour Organisation's 2011 Convention on Domestic Workers, which is to take effect in September. But the Government has not yet ratified the Convention.

By signing, this country accepted in principle the Convention's requirements of a minimum wage, at least one day off per week, a clear contract before expatriate workers leave their homelands, security against violence, occupational safety and health measures, and other protections. But the detailed legal work needed to put these commitments into actual practice remains to be done and applied.

Protecting workers' rights is not as simple as some people would like. In Emirati society, domestic matters are considered private, and government intervention in this realm is generally unwelcome. Indeed, while other workers are covered under labour law, domestic staff still come under the family law.

Balancing the rights of foreign workers and their employers is a continuing challenge.

But as a modern and prosperous country, the UAE has a responsibility to live up to evolving international norms of fairness.