x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

More safeguards for domestic staff

A good way to honour the work of maids and nannies would be to give them better safeguards against abuse.

They nurture children, cook meals, clean homes and attend to countless chores. Precisely because they live at close quarters with their employers, domestic workers are expected to operate efficiently, for long hours, and to be cheerful while they're at it. What then should they expect in return?

A nightmare case now before the Abu Dhabi Criminal Court illustrates the extremes of what a maid or nanny might experience. An employer stands accused after her maid died, allegedly due to complications following prolonged abuse, including burns from being scalded with hot water.

The fact that the employer is being prosecuted underscores the attention that is being paid both by authorities and by workers' charities to the issue of abuse. Most domestic workers in the UAE fare well and a growing body of regulations is attempting to give them more protections. But the potential for abuse remains inherent in the working conditions of many maids and nannies - they are isolated, utterly dependent on their employers, and often ignorant of available legal and social resources. Even verbal abuse can be very harmful in such circumstances.

So corresponding safeguards are needed; but what? Few would tolerate snooping inspectors in their homes, for example, and labour law maids are regulated by family law.

But there are relatively simple measures that deserve serious study in resolving the issue of abuse of household workers.

For example, maids could be informed - in their own languages - of hotlines to report problems; they could also be assured of the right to have their own mobile phones. Officials can reinforce their right to retain their own passports. And greater efforts can be made to prevent contract substitution.

Some diplomatic missions, most notably the Philippines embassy, are already working hard on solutions to protect their nationals. This week, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, added even more weight by marking the anniversary of his accession by inviting everyone to honour construction workers, domestic staff and other labourers, the "unknown soldiers" who "deserve a big 'thank you' from all of us" for their role in building the country. "Their services are valued and appreciated," Sheikh Mohammed added. That's a viewpoint we can all share.