Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Domestic workers should be treated with dignity

An economic migration study throws up some interesting answers that all employers should heed

Some domestic workers find it hard to settle in a new country. Mona Al Marzooqi/ The National
Some domestic workers find it hard to settle in a new country. Mona Al Marzooqi/ The National

What do you wish you’d known before you made a momentous decision, like changing jobs, moving country or moving house? It is a question many of us reflect upon months or years after making these choices. It is also a query that The National encourages all of its readers who employ domestic workers to regularly ask their employees.

As this newspaper reported, a recent study published in the Globalisation and Health journal spoke to a group of Ethiopian women who had been recruited to work in the Gulf as domestic workers. The journal asked these women about the experiences once they took up their postings in households, not just in the UAE, but also in Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Their answers provide a stunning assessment of contemporary economic migration. Few of those who travelled knew much about the region before they arrived. Those that did, gleaned most of their knowledge of the Middle East from a small pool of advisers, such as family members or neighbours. Almost universally, they played down any negative advice they may have received before departure.

The promise of better economic circumstances is almost overwhelming. It persuades us all to act in haste when we should, perhaps, slow down a little. In the case of domestic workers, it also places a duty of care upon employers to help their new employees settle in, to be sensitive to their concerns and to understand that resettling in a foreign country can take time. It is also incumbent on employers to give maids their rights, such as access to a mobile phone, so as they can stay in touch with family at home. Many maids find their way into good homes and stay with the same household for years; others find it harder to settle. Either way, there should be a broad recognition that these workers do important work and that they should be treated with dignity. Protections for domestic workers have been written into law. Those designated rights must always be backed by compassion and care.