x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

UAE to stop issuing work visas to Ethiopian labourers and domestic help

The UAE Government will stop issuing work visas for Ethiopian blue-collar and domestic workers until an agreement to protect their rights has been established.

Mesganu Arga Moach, the Ethiopian consul general, announced a ban on all recruitment of domestic and blue-collar labour from Ethiopia to the UAE last week.
Mesganu Arga Moach, the Ethiopian consul general, announced a ban on all recruitment of domestic and blue-collar labour from Ethiopia to the UAE last week.

DUBAI // The UAE has stopped issuing work visas for Ethiopian domestic and blue-collar staff.

The ban will stay in place until officials finalise a labour agreement to guarantee workers' pay, conditions and employee rights.

Last week Ethiopia formally requested such an agreement to prevent exploitation by unscrupulous recruitment agents and abusive employers, and banned its citizens from applying for such work in the meantime. They are also banned from working in Oman, Lebanon and Bahrain for the same reason.

"We are in the process of making a labour agreement," a senior official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said yesterday. "We will see how terms differ from other countries. It will take a little time."

The decision followed a high-level meeting in Abu Dhabi on Sunday between Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Mesganu Arga Moach, the Ethiopian consul general, and Dr Yousif Eisa Hassan Alsabri, the UAE ambassador to Ethiopia.

"It is good for the cooperation between the two countries," the ministry official said.

Mr Moach said Ethiopia had asked for a halt to issuing visas for domestic workers and low-income job seekers recruited through agents until an agreement was in place.

“We have officially proposed to start the process of signing an agreement,” he said.

Yesterday Mr Moach went to Rashid Hospital to visit Azeb Abebe, 24, the Ethiopian housemaid who suffered burns to more than 80 per cent of her body in a gas explosion last month at her sponsor’s home in Al Barsha. She remains in critical condition,

“She’s still not conscious, and it is impossible to communicate with her because of her medical condition,” Mr Moach said. Azeb had no health insurance. Her sponsor and the agency that recruited her would be called to the consulate before any legal action was pursued against them, Mr Moach said.

Masood Salem, Azeb’s sponsor, said they were willing “to do anything to support her.

“When we met the consulate after the accident, we clearly and explicitly told them that we will take 100 per cent responsibility for her and her medical bills. We have taken complete ownership,” said the Indian expatriate, who has launched a public appeal on Facebook to raise funds for her treatment.

Azeb is scheduled to undergo surgery today to remove damaged and burnt tissue.

“They will do the surgery only if her condition is stable. Otherwise, they might postpone it,” Mr Salem said.

Under Ethiopian government rules, domestic and migrant worker contracts must be attested by the Ethiopian mission in Dubai, and employers have to provide medical insurance.

Existing sponsors and companies must come forward and attest existing contracts at the mission. For visa renewal, Mr Moach said: “They must report to the consulate before renewing visas. We will see if they have medical insurance.”

More than 100,000 Ethiopians live in the UAE. The consulate estimates up to 300 arrive in the Emirates each day to work as housemaids and security guards and in other blue-collar jobs. However, only one agency here is known to be legally recruiting Ethiopian workers.

The consul general said he was optimistic about the UAE’s response, as it was a “common issue” that the two countries had to resolve.

“This is a problem of the two countries. Ethiopians are becoming runaways, their rights are abused. It is becoming a problem for the UAE and Ethiopia. We are expecting a positive response given the excellent relationship between Ethiopia and the UAE.

“Our message is those people who are trying to process workers’ visas must stop because it is a national issue and sensitive issue. We have to start with a labour agreement with the UAE.”

pkannan@thenational.ae