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Migrant Rights Urges Revised Draft Law on GCC Domestic Workers

On February 6, 2013

Riyadh - A new law in the Arab Gulf states that deals with domestic workers fails to meet international standards, Migrant Rights said today.

The “unified draft law” on domestic workers was adopted on January 14 2013 by the Under Secretaries of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s Ministries of Labor, yet falls dramatically short of international worker conventions.

Key Findings:
The draft law attempts to address the paucity in legislation governing the relationship between domestic workers and employers. The law also attempts to standardize a number of provisions presently operative in some member nations.(1)

International pressure on the Gulf states to address migrant domestic worker abuses has been a key factor in the development of this new law. In a statement on the contract, the Director General of the Executive Bureau of the GCC Council of Ministers of Labour and Council of Ministers of Social Affairs, Aqeel Ahmed Al Jassim, stated that the GCC states have “exerted great efforts to provide the utmost legal degrees of protection for the domestic workers.”(2) Bahraini labor minister Jamil bin Mohammed Ali Humaidan also claimed that the new draft contract is “in line with international standards that guarantee the rights of the expatriate labour force and ensure a safe work environment for them.”(3)

  • In gauging the prospective impact of this new legislation, Migrant Rights notes that a unified domestic worker contract was also proposed in 2008.(4)
  • Migrant Rights notes the slow pace of reforms is typical of labor legislation in the Gulf, where proposed reforms are often paraded as evidence of improvement to migrant rights, but commitments often lack substantive follow-through.
  • Similar proposals have entirely failed to pass into law while others are rendered impotent by the systematic absence of enforcement mechanisms.
  • Migrant Rights urges the GCC to take the opportunity that a draft law will provide to improve the lives of domestic workers by fully adopting international conventions, rather than adopting piecemeal provisions that fall far short of offering domestic workers protection.

    Migrant Rights notes that although the unified contract is not necessarily deemed to fail, it can only succeed if immediate action is taken to rectify the draft’s significant oversights.

    As Migrant Rights monthly roundups dramatically, and tragically highlight, Gulf states have yet to truly exert “great effort” to protect workers.

    Further Information:

    Migrant Rights has compared the standards upheld in the ILO’s Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers (No. 189) to evaluate the draft in terms of its success in addressing and improving deficiencies in domestic worker rights.(5)

    The released portion of the “unified draft” defers to some of the convention’s recommendations, but fails to incorporate critical provisions concerning chronic issues in the region. A comparison of the draft proposal to stipulations in the ILO convention are provided below:

    The current draft the contract stipulates domestic workers are entitled to: (6)

    1. A weekly day off, or two days off the following week in case of work overload (Article 10).

    2. The right to keep possession of passports (Article 9).

    3. Monthly payment of salaries to be transferred to the employee’s bank account, or to the employee directly. Signed receipts will be required (Article 12).

    4. Appropriate accommodation, food, clothes, visa charges, and a plane ticket each at the expense of the sponsor. The summary of the draft law does not mention a proactive method of enforcement essential to the implementation of this provision, which already exists in varying and sometimes unregulated forms throughout the Gulf states. It is likely that sponsors will be required to prove their ability to provide for these stipulations, which is currently compulsory in the UAE and which was the Philippines recently proposed to Saudi Arabia in a recent round of negotiations.

    5. A 3 month probationary period during which they or their sponsor can cancel the contract for specific reasons. This provision likely addresses the heightened potential for workers to abscond because of misleading employment contracts. Workers may be less likely to abscond if an alternative, reliable mechanism to legally exit unsatisfactory work environments exists.

    6. Automatically renewed contracts, if there are no objections by either party, which can only be cancelled at least three days before expiry.

    7. The draft contract also seeks to regulate domestic worker behavior by:

    8. Proscribing any breach of employer privacy and working for other families. Under the sponsorship system, domestic workers are already prohibited from working for other families. This clause may be critical in preventing families from “loaning out” domestic workers to family members and neighbors, though it likely intends to targets illegal part-time maids.

    9. Holding maids liable for any damage they cause in the household. This provision could be manipulated by employers to justify illegal wage deductions, especially as many novice workers are unfamiliar with newer home gadgets.

    10. Banning domestic workers from entering other GCC countries if they have violated the law or absconded from their employers. This proposal could disproportionately punish absconding workers depending on the mechanisms developed to ensure workers have easily accessible avenues to redress issues with their employers or terminate employment.

    In order to realize the full spectrum of domestic worker rights, the following omissions must be introduced into succeeding versions of the contract:

    Migrant Rights notes that the “unified draft law” fails to provide for:

  • The right to freely associate and collectively bargain (Article 3)
  • A unified minimum wage (Article 11). Minimum wage varies between the GCC states and is often conditioned on the nationality of domestic workers. Diplomatic sources from manpower countries indicated their full approval of the unified contract would be contingent on the inclusion of a standard minimum wage.(7)
  • Improved regulation of recruitment agencies, essential to protect migrants from pre-departure exploitation (Article 7 and 15). The ILO convention denotes a number of items that must be accurately represented in the employment contract and specifically addresses the conduct of employment agencies. The draft law makes fails to make any mention of this critical component of domestic worker conditions.
  • Migrant Rights notes that the draft law also fails to stipulate assurances for:

  • Domestic worker privacy (Article 7). Privacy is mentioned in correspondence to the provision of proper accommodation, but the security of personal possessions, including the use phones and laptops, as well as the right to private social life are overlooked.
  • Proactive regulatory mechanisms for the effective protection of domestic workers against all forms of abuse, harassment, and violence (Article 5). Relatedly, the draft law provides no assurances for occupational safety (Article 3).
  • The equal treatment of domestic workers and workers generally in relation to normal hours of work, overtime compensation, etc (Article 10). Though workers are guaranteed a weekly day off, they are not ensured a daily or weekly maximum work hours akin to other laborers.
  • The draft also indicates that pre-existing domestic worker laws remain in force, including the resolution of disputes arising between employers and domestic workers. These mechanisms vary between the nations but consistent evidence demonstrates GCC-wide deficiencies in addressing labor violations. The absence of any prospective improvement to regulatory procedures is a significant omission that will impact the effective enforcement of these new laws.

    The final draft will be submitted to the Ministers of Labor for approval at the 30th labor conference hosted by Bahrain in 2013.(8) Reports indicate that not all states agree with the provision of a weekly day off, and that Qatar in particular opposes some unnamed components of the contract that are not in line with [it’s] domestic work environment.”(9)

    1. GCC unified draft contract for domestic help gets initial nod (Khaleej Times)
    2. Undersecretaries of GCC Ministries of Labour discuss the draft unified contract for domestic workers on 14 Jan in Manama (Bahrain News Agency)
    3. Labour Minister Meets GCC Labour Ministries Undersecretaries (Bahrain News Agency)
    4. Maids to be protected under GCC-wide law (Arabian Business)
    5. Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189)
    6. Bahrain mulls weekly day off for housemaids (Trade Arabia)
    7. GCC agrees on draft contract for housemaids (The Peninsula Qatar)
    8. Undersecretaries of GCC Ministries of Labour Approve the GCC Unified Draft Contract of Domestic Labor (Bahrain News Agency)
    9. Indonesian embassy enters fray over maids’ rights in Qatar (Doha News)

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