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Sat 25 Oct 2014 01:52 AM

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UAE responds to critical report into treatment of foreign maids

Senior official says Human Rights Watch report draws 'sweeping conclusions based on small unrepresentative sample'

UAE responds to critical report into treatment of foreign maids
(Photo for illustrative purposes only)

The UAE has responded to a critical report by Human Rights Watch about the treatment of foreign domestic workers in the country.

Amna Al Meheiri, director of the Human Rights department of the Foreign Ministry, said in a statement cited by news agency WAM that the report had "drawn sweeping conclusions based on a small, unrepresentative sample".

Al Meheiri added that the HRW report "misses the bigger picture: the UAE provides economic opportunities to people of 200 different nationalities (and that) the UAE is committed to the continuous improvement of protection for foreign workers".

HRW claimed in the report that migrant domestic workers in the UAE are beaten, exploited, and trapped in forced labour situations.

It claimed the UAE government, which is about to take up an influential new role in the International Labour Organisation (ILO), has failed to adequately protect female domestic workers – many of them from the Philippines – from abuse by employers and recruiters.

But Al Meheiri stressed: "Given the number of foreign workers in the UAE, there are bound to be cases of abuse. Such cases do not reflect the general situation, which works to the benefit of the vast majority of employers and employees.

"The UAE will continue to improve protections for foreign workers and engage in dialogue with their home countries to resolve issues that arise."

The 79-page HRW report claimed the UAE’s visa sponsorship system, known as kafala, and the lack of labour law protections leave migrant domestic workers exposed to abuse.

“The UAE’s sponsorship system chains domestic workers to their employers and then leaves them isolated and at risk of abuse behind the closed doors of private homes,” said Rothna Begum, Middle East women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“With no labour law protections for domestic workers, employers can, and many do, overwork, underpay, and abuse these women.”

Human Rights Watch said it interviewed 99 female domestic workers in the UAE, as well as recruitment agencies, lawyers, and others. It claimed it sent letters to 15 UAE ministries and bodies in January, April, and August to seek information, request meetings, and present its findings but received no response.

It added that the UAE government did have a short meeting with Human Rights Watch representatives in September but did not address any domestic worker issues.

In the statement cited by WAM, Al Meheiri said: "The UAE's status as an attractive place of work for people from around the world has made it a major recipient of foreign labour, which is of benefit to the workers, the sending countries, and the UAE.

"The UAE has ratified nine major ILO conventions related to the rights of workers, and has adopted numerous laws to protect workers’ rights, including in the areas of recruitment, pay, housing and health.

"We acknowledge that this area is a work in progress, which is why the UAE is committed to the continuous strengthening of protections for foreign workers, including migrant domestic workers, as a national priority."

Al Meheiri added that Human Rights Watch "has a history of sensationalising issues".

The statement said a standard form contract has been established to regulate the relationship between domestic workers and their employers.

The contract specifies the rights and obligations of each party, including hours of work and days off. The employer generally bears all expenses related to sourcing domestic workers, travel costs to the UAE, accommodation and meals. The provision of health insurance for domestic workers at the cost of the employer is mandatory.

Honest Opinion 5 years ago

HRW reports are completely biased when they make reports on the UAE's human rights record. As Ms.Amna said they made conclusion based on small portion or record. As I know scientifically and logically speaking, this report is not valid to make assumption based on small and even outdated information. They are basically gathering information from the past and just repeating it. I have read those report and even seen the video, they did not have evidence to support their reports. It is all based on opinion and hate.

ConfusedHonestAndBiased 5 years ago

Are they biased when they criticize Syria's regime?

SKP 5 years ago

It seems these HRW guys are so biased. They don't like to see the progress UAE has made over a short period. If at all there are some problems in UAE, then if you compare such problems with developed world, I am sure that UAE can stand taller. Again, the dynamic actions being taken by UAE Leadership is second to none. So called western world, don't be jealous of the unbeleivable progress made by UAE. (to clarify, I am from India)

maral phayer 5 years ago

Please let us accept the situation here in this country that most of those domestic workers do not even have the most basic human right! Majority of the them are required to work 7 days a week,at least 12 hours a day, and constantly talked down and yelled at ! It is not just a small proportion of the country. Let us wake up and smell the coffee, it is not all a garden of roses !

Honest Opinion 5 years ago

First of all, what does this have to do with the UAE, Syria is a completely different country.
Second, The Syria's regime is completely different because evidence is crystal clear; however, their report on Israel is very "kind" and "sensitive". They don't show the full side of how Israel is treating Palestinians.

Paul 5 years ago

The way maids are treated in the GCC countries, would embarrass some slave owners of the 17the century.
Working hours, days-off and salaries are among the sub-standard conditions offered in the rich GCC zone.
Nobody wants to admit it or even debate it as the current status is just so convenient for so many others –sad the world we still live in.

Oldtimer 5 years ago

I think these maids must compulsorily have mobile phones registered in their names and the contact details with their respective foreign missions in UAE. There should also be monthly telephone contact and one-on-one sessions with their country's consular representative responsible for expatriates welfare at least once in six months. During such sessions they should have the oppurtunity to air their grievances if any and the concerned officials should take it up with UAE Ministry of Labour authorities to solve any issues regarding non-payment of salaries, lack of adequate rest or being forced to do work other than what is stated on their labour contract. If there are clear instances of physical abuse, the matter should be reported to the police for appropriate criminal cases to be filed.

Peter Peter 5 years ago

We see abuse of workers rights every day all around us. There is no free press here and letters critical of local authorities never get published. A few questions Mr. Meheiri can answer ?

1) Why do domestic workers only get a residence visa & can not approach the Labor department with their grievances ?
2) Why do so many maids abscond ? Has any research been done by the authorities ?
3) Why is there a chronic shortage of maids in UAE inspite of high salaries ?
) Why is there no forum for regular abuse of maids to be reported on an 800 help line ?
4) Why is the UAE government not making any effort to keep in touch with these women to see if they are OK - particularly as they are beyond the protection of the UAE labor laws ?
5) Sponsors pay 5000 Dhs. a year for a maid visa.Why can't some of this money be used to set up support services for maids ?

Let us not forget, the abuse of children used as camel jockeys stopped only after rights groups "sensationalised" the issue !!

AreYouForReal 5 years ago

I will try to spell it for you, very slowly. Same for SKP
You are making a claim that HRW is a biased organization on their treatment of UAE. I am asking you if HRW bias is specific to their treatment of the UAE or should we disregard all of their reports (like their criticism of Iran, Syria or even the US government treatment of detainees in Gitmo, there are many other examples but I assume people who can make these claims about HRW are themselves quite familiar with the work of this organization)

George 5 years ago

In my opinion after living in Dubai some 16 years, authorities will act if approached with complaints, workers unaware how,who, & when to approach authorities. Philippine government & Embassy with their regulations are guilty for complicated and obstructive regulations thus their nationals accept abuse under duress.