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Proposed UAE law would grant essential rights to domestic workers

On June 16, 2012

It's rare that non-meretricious laws emerge from the public promises of authorities into actual legislation. But this week, the UAE's Federal National Council (FNC) passed a law that would create essential avenues for workers to redress issues with their employers. The law would also develop mechanisms to inform migrants of their rights and of how to lodge an official complaint. The law would further criminalize some frequent employer abuses, including failing to pay migrants on time or preventing workers from taking time off. Additionally, recruitment agencies would be required to present contracts to workers before they arrive in the UAE, and would also held liable for their recruits. The language of the law does not make it clear if domestic workers are allowed to leave their employment without being forced to return home.

The introduction of the law appears to be related to recent findings connecting domestic worker crime to employer mistreatment.

The law is particularly important as there are few rights enshrined for domestic workers. Many laws that affect laborers, including minimum wage and maximum weekly hours, do not apply to domestic workers. Initially, some members of the FNC still held that domestic worker rights do not need legal protection, but the majority of members noted the law provides benefits to both employers and employees. In fact, the proposal appears to be related to recent findings that link domestic worker crimes to employer mistreatment.

While authorities often promise to enact legislation that they later fail to carry out - most notably, with reform of the sponsorship system - the announcement does speak to the saliency of the issue, which is largely due to the efforts of migrant worker NGOS. In fact, a member of the committee specified that the criticism from rights' groups necessitated the codification of domestic worker protections:

"We are criticised by [international human rights organisations] on the ill-treatment of workers in the country, so we need to mention all this,"

The law still must be enacted by the president before it is put into effect, but the level of support it has garnered does hold promise.