x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Law intends to protect maids

A government envoy has unveiled plans to improve conditions for domestic workers by regulating working hours and insisting on health care cover.

NEW YORK // A government envoy has unveiled plans to improve conditions for domestic workers by regulating working hours, insisting on health care cover and even allocating holiday time. Khalifa Salem al Mazrooei, a UAE diplomat at the UN, said a draft law on protecting maids illustrated government efforts to improve conditions for the more than three million foreign workers in the country.

It follows criticism from Amnesty International and other human rights groups that say domestic workers in the Gulf do not receive enough protection from abuse by their employers. Mr al Mazrooei told the UN's human rights committee that the Government was "enforcing special measures related to domestic workers, of whom the majority are expatriate women". "Such measures aim to regulate working hours, vacations, dispute resolutions and ensuring health care and proper accommodations," he told delegates yesterday.

"The Government has proceeded to draft a law that governs the relationship between domestic help and household employers." He said the law, the first of its kind in the region, would be guided by international standards and be in line with UN conventions. Foreign media reports have long been critical of the treatment of domestic workers in the Gulf, detailing cases of mistreatment and a lack of support from police and officials. The topic was addressed when the UAE appeared before the UN's Geneva-based Human Rights Council as part of a routine assessment last December.

After several delegates referred to allegations of mistreatment of maids, Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, said the Government was working to improve conditions. Speaking at the UN yesterday, Mr al Mazrooei said the Government was making progress on safeguarding the rights of people "from various countries and diversified cultures working in the UAE under temporary contracts". He said the Government "attached great importance to the respect and promotion of human rights" and outlined a series of "concrete steps to reform and activate labour laws" that benefit foreign workers.

"Such measures focused on essential issues such as wage protection and remittance facilities, health insurance, employment transference, labour disputes, legal rights, improved working conditions, improved accommodation, inspection visits to ensure the compliance of employers, and access to the relevant authorities in the country," he said. Meanwhile, officials have set up a UAE Society for Human Rights, which guides Government agencies on "respect of human rights, equality and no-discrimination because of sex, race or religious belief".

"The establishment of public departments for the protection of human rights at police stations, now known as Social Development facilities, provides legal and psychological assistance for victims of abuse," he said. "In addition, there are a number of charitable societies that offer help, support and rehabilitation for women and children victims of domestic violence and human trafficking." jreinl@thenational.ae