x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Untrained maids and cleaners used as childminders in UAE

Domestic staff, including cleaners, say they are often asked to work as baby sitters without any training and often have to rely on parents’ instructions to care for their children.

DUBAI// Maids are being left in charge of children without being given specialist training to look after them and prevent accidents in the home.

Domestic staff, including cleaners, say they are often asked to work as babysitters and have to rely on parents’ instructions to care for their children.

“The parents tell us when to feed the child, ask us not to open the door to strangers and to stay away from windows and balconies,” said a Nepalese maid, who works with a cleaning company and asked not to be named.

“The agency doesn’t tell us anything or give us any special training to take care of children. We care for them based on our experience and instinct.”

She added she was occasionally asked to take babysitting jobs by her company.

“We should be given specialised, standard training and taught how to give first aid to children. It is good for parents and for us too.”

The woman said maids should not be asked to work as babysitters because they came into contact with hazardous cleaning products.

“We use chemicals for cleaning. We shouldn’t be asked to babysit too. It is not right.”

Another domestic worker agreed.

“When parents leave the children in our care, it is our responsibility. We are always scared if something goes wrong. We are asked to do cleaning and babysitting at the same time. We have to use our presence of mind if something happens.

“Initially I didn’t know how to take care of a baby but now, I am perfect,” said the cleaner, who has been babysitting for four years.

“I keep the child close by and do vacuuming and cleaning. I never leave the child alone.”

She admitted it was not an easy task.

“Western expatriates tell us not to do anything but only care for the children. Asians and Arab expats, however, ask us to take care of the child, feed them, play with them and clean the house. It is always tough on us to do both.

“Our company just sends us to babysit without any knowledge or training. Companies should give us some training in first aid and childcare.”

However, some parents said it would be too expensive to hire professionally qualified nannies to care for their children.

“It is a good idea but not affordable,” said Ann Maria, who lives in Dubai and recently hired a live-in domestic helper to help her care for her new baby.

“Families will go for an easy way out and hire a maid and trust them to do a good job. For instance, I regularly remind her to close the balcony door.”

Mrs Maria planned to put her maid though a first aid course in case of an emergency.

“My biggest fear is if she will be able to handle the situation if my son chokes or he falls into a bathtub or the pool. She should know how to act quickly and not get paranoid. I plan to take her to a class on how to give CPR and first aid to babies before I start work.”

Bosses at domestic help agencies said it was important to hire professionally qualified staff rather than ask maids to double up their cleaning duties with babysitting.

Staff at Howdra Cleaning Services regularly told clients their employees were trained cleaners only, and not nannies.

“We can mind the children if the mum pops out to the shop but if the job is to solely take care of infants, then we don’t take them on,” said Dave Courtnell, the company director.

“We turn down requests for nanny jobs and always emphasise that these ladies are not fully trained nannies. We are told that our girls would be needed to clean the house but nine out of 10 times, they are asked to look after children.

“The problem is people make do with what they can afford, which is an untrained person, and entrust the most valuable person in their lives to them.”

Mr Courtnell said authorities should consider issuing separate nanny visas.

“The way around this will be to introduce a different visa with specific training for that particular job. The training should be done in their home countries to the standard required in the UAE.”

pkannan@thenational.ae