Domestic helpers in the UAE will have strong legal support from next month to ensure they are not deprived of their wages, adequate rest and medical care.
Under a new contract format, legally binding on the employers from April 1, a domestic worker would also be entitled to paid annual leave with a return ticket to visit his home country, and one month's salary if he decides to forego the vacation and if the contract stipulates, money equivalent to the value of the ticket.
The new welfare measure was announced here Monday by Interior Minister Gen Shaikh Saif bin Zayed al Nahyan to define the rights and responsibilities of domestic workers throughout the seven emirates (states) of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The state-run Emirates News Agency WAM quoted the minister as saying that the new contract will play a significant role in improving the quality of life of the domestic work force, which constitute a large segment of the expatriate population.
Domestic workers mostly come from Asian countries, mainly India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, the Philippines and Bangladesh, and in some cases from Egypt and Morocco.
Gen Shaikh Saif said the departments of Immigration and Naturalization will enforce the new contract while issuing new visas.
Giving details, Director of the Department of Naturalization and Residency in Dubai, Mohammaed Al Marri, told WAM: "The core of the new contract is transparency in the relationship between the employer and the worker, while ensuring that both parties' rights are protected."
"The contract stresses the importance of regulating work, the nature of work involved, and the need for clearly defined rest periods. It also states the importance of providing proper healthcare in line with government rules and that salaries should also be agreed upon by both parties."
The domestic workers contract will be valid for two years and can be extended by mutual consent. It includes conditions governing vacation, air tickets and medical care.
It details the procedures if either party wishes to end the contract. If an employee does not wish to avail of a holiday, he has to be reimbursed a month's salary or money equivalent to the value of a return ticket if agreed upon between them.
Al Marri said the Department of Naturalization and Residency continuously seeks to curb violation of workers' rights and other illegal activity, including taking fees or commissions from workers. It coordinates with the consulates of the countries from where a majority of workers come.
According to the new procedures, three original copies of the contract - in Arabic and English - must be signed by both parties. Each party will receive one copy and the third will be filed with the Department of Immigration and Naturalization.
The first article of the new contract specifies the monthly salary. It also states that the salary must be paid in full at the end of every month.
Both parties must sign a salary slip - in Arabic and English - each month that will be kept by the employer as a record of payments.
The contract commits domestic workers to perform the duties and responsibilities associated with the job. There are special clauses to prevent the employer from forcing the worker to undertake hazardous or unethical tasks or assigning work for another party.
Also clearly stated in the contract is the employer's responsibility in assisting domestic workers with transferring their salaries through the UAE's bank system, facilitating communication with families back home, and sending letters - without reading them - at the expense of the worker.
In the event of the death of the domestic worker, the new legislation clearly states that it is the employer's responsibility to repatriate the body of the deceased to the home country and repatriate his/her personal effects as soon as possible, in coordination with the concerned authorities in the worker's home country.
To arbitrate disputes, a special unit has been established in the department of Immigration and Naturalization. If these are not settled in two weeks, cases will be referred to the courts.
A worker's legal rights will however be disregarded if he or she absconds.
According to the new procedure, the employer will be responsible for having the contract authenticated by the Department of Immigration and Naturalization.
At the expiry of the contract, the employer will have to provide the worker with a one-way ticket to his/her home country. If the contract is renewed by mutual agreement, the employer must provide a return ticket to the worker so that he/she can resume their employment.
The contract specifies the employer's responsibility to provide the domestic worker with safe, healthy and adequate accommodation, and to treat him/her well and with respect. In return, the domestic worker must commit to undertaking his/her work with honesty, integrity and secrecy and in a way that does not conflict with the culture and traditions of the host country, the UAE.