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)
By Staff writer
Sat 25 Oct 2014 01:52 AM

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.

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