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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Should domestic workers be allowed a mobile? Study says yes but some employers say no

Domestic workers returning from stints in the Gulf say it is an essential link to home but some employers say trust has to be earnt

A housemaid hold a phone while at Dubai Mall with her sponsor. Pawan Singh / The National
A housemaid hold a phone while at Dubai Mall with her sponsor. Pawan Singh / The National

Domestic workers should have access to a mobile phone to contact family at their discretion, a new study has concluded.

The study of Ethiopian maids published last month in the journal Globalisation and Health said this link to families and the outside world was vital and maids said they should carry a phone whether their employers liked it or not.

As one worker put it: “If you have mobile phone you can call the police or the agency whenever you come across any challenges. If you don’t have a mobile phone, how can you call someone to help you? Your employer can abuse you the way she wants.”

Maids who have returned to Ethiopia from the Gulf and took part in the study advised new workers buy a local SIM card at the airport when they arrived in their country of employment and hide the phone from employers.

RELATED: Prospective Gulf domestic workers offered advice from seasoned maids

However, at the agency district in Ras Al Khaimah, potential employers were sceptical of the suggestion that domestic staff had a right to carry a phone.

“My uncle had an Ethiopian maid and she had a phone and she contacted a man and she fled,” said a 30-year-old Emirati employer, Fatema, who did not want to give her last name. “My uncle lost lots of money.”

Another employer, Abdulla Mohammed, said trust had to be earnt.

“People who have phones, after one or two months, they leave, so it has to be like that,” said Mr Mohammed, an Emirati in his late forties from Sharjah who employs two domestic workers. “At first no, we don’t give a phone but we can after we see how she works. I don’t know why people leave.”

Many believe the phone is a distraction.

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“If the housemaids have a cell phone, they’re not able to work,” said Rahel Atsbha, an Ethiopian who works in domestic staff placement at the Al Ahlia Labour Supply Services agency. “They’re busy with Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp. That’s when the madame gets angry. The important thing is clothes, food and that two times a week they call the family.”

Josephine Pia, 36, a Filipina maid who has worked in the Gulf for more than five years, said a phone was essential. “It’s very important because they are my family,” said Ms Pia. “They love us and we love them. That’s why I’m here, because of them.”

Ms Pia has worked for almost three years in RAK, following a two-year contract in Saudi Arabia and a short period in Qatar, where she chose not to finish her contract.

“The employer should be understanding [of] the rights of the housemaid,” she said. “If they understand this, then we will have a good relationship.”