x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

FNC approves bill that limits domestic staff’s work hours

The draft law regulates 19 domestic occupations and caused debate as members were divided over the extent of freedom to which housemaids should be entitled.

ABU DHABI // The Federal National Council has passed a bill that gives domestic workers a day off, holiday pay and limits their working hours.

The draft will was approved after a six-hour debate that ran until 2.30am on Wednesday.

The changes aim to avoid disputes over work conditions, time off and employment hours that can end up with police involvement or in court.

FNC member Dr Saeed Al Mutawa said it was crucial that the chamber sent a message that the country would ensure the rights of workers.

“Every human has the right to go out, this is not prison. This should not be negotiated,” Dr Al Mutawa said. He said all of the rights set out on Wednesday would be in employees’ contracts and “guaranteed by law”.

The changes, which now await approval by the President, Sheikh Khalifa, include:

• one day off a week to be spent however the employee chooses – despite opposition from some who said leaving the home should be subject to the sponsor’s approval;

• at least 12 hours off duty a day, including eight consecutive hours; and

• 30 days of paid annual leave.

The draft law, which covers 19 domestic roles, has been years in the making. It was passed previously by the FNC in 2012, but not signed by the President.

Instead, it was sent to the Ministry of Labour to amend some of the clauses, and has been returned to the FNC.

Council members were on Wednesday divided over whether domestic workers should be allowed to leave their sponsor’s home without permission.

“If I have a maid and I allowed her to go out, she will get involved in illicit relationships and tomorrow she will come back to me pregnant, and then there will be a problem,” said vocal critic Mohammed Al Ketbi, who represents Sharjah.

Mr Al Ketbi said he was less concerned about male workers: “I am only concerned with maids.”

Dubai representative Hamad Al Rohoomi repeatedly pushed for clauses in the law that require that the employee and sponsor agree on his or her day off.

But Saqr Ghobash, Minister of Labour, said employees could not be made to ask for permission to leave the house.

“It is the right of the worker, and it is up to them to decide whether to spend it inside or outside,” Mr Ghobash said.

The employment of domestic workers has so far been regulated differently to the rest of the workforce.

The Ministry of Interior oversees their employment and deals with any issues that arise. This means police can be involved in escalated disputes, rather than labour officials or a labour court.

This is in contrast to the rest of the workforce, which is regulated by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation and can take disputes to the labour court.

But the Philippine ambassador to the UAE said in December last year that this was expected to soon change under tighter employment laws, and domestic workers would be regulated by the same ministry.

Mr Ghobash said the UAE “with its full consent” signed an international agreement to ensure labour rights are upheld.

The constitution entitles employees to leisure time, and “we have been following the constitution for 40 years,” he said.

hdajani@thenational.ae