x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Maids risk abuse and exploitation if they drop out of system

Failing to follow official procedures leaves domestic workers open to abuses.

DUBAI // Domestic workers have exposed themselves to exploitation and abuse by failing to follow official procedures for obtaining work or slipping out of the system.

After working as a maid for a year, AA absconded when her employer's son held a blade to her throat.

"I had to escape," AA, a Filipina, said of her departure in September last year. "I joined a cleaning agency that accepts runaway maids.

"They promised me Dh1,000 a month but I worked there for four months and never received a salary. I was working from 7am until midnight cleaning apartments."

AA said when she and the other cleaners were not working they were locked in a room.

"On January 22, I refused to work. I said I was not feeling well," she said. "I had managed to get a duplicate copy of the key so I was able to run away."

RT, also from the Philippines, came to the UAE on a visit visa and took a job as a live-in housemaid. She left after a month because she did not like being locked in the house.

She joined a cleaning agency and signed a contract that promised her Dh700 a month.

"But what's happening is the salary is based on hours worked, not the Dh700," RT said. "If there was no work I did not receive anything."

A 2007 Human Rights Watch study, titled Exported and Exposed, spelt out the dangers faced by Sri Lankan domestic workers dealing with labour agents in countries including the UAE.

"In an alarming number of cases, domestic workers seeking the labour agent's intervention to resolve problems or a transfer to a better employer led to even greater abuse.

"Some labour agents provided needed help, while others beat and threatened domestic workers when they fled their employers and sought assistance.

"Human Rights Watch also documented cases in which labour agents returned women to their abusive employers using force or duress."

Migrante International UAE, a group that supports workers from the Philippines, has come across similar cases.

"In the past six months there have been two instances where a maid went to the agency to complain about her employer, and the agency contacted the employer and asked the maid to go back to the employer," said Shayne Rosqueta, the vice chair of the group.

"Maids are not going back to the agency because they are afraid the agency will contact the employer."

Visas for live-in housemaids are paid for by the employer.

But RT was shocked to find that the cost of her visa and accommodation was being deducted by the cleaning company from her meagre earnings.

"Because of this I was receiving nothing so I've left the company," she said.

Fears about the welfare of maids has also been expressed in a report on the UAE by India's Ministry of Overseas Affairs.

"There were also concerns about the exploitation of women in the Gulf region," the report says.

"The minimum age for housemaids is fixed at 30, but still the problem persists through fake age certificates and other rackets."

csimpson@thenational.ae