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UAE overhauls domestic workers recruitment

The UAE’s Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MoHRE) has stopped renewing licences for domestic workers recruitment agencies since March as part of a complete overhaul of the system.

On June 11, 2018

The UAE’s Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MoHRE) has stopped renewing licences for domestic workers recruitment agencies since March as part of a complete overhaul of the system.

The UAE initially announced that Tadbeer centres would replace recruitment agencies alongside the passage of its domestic workers law in 2017. Since then, reforms have been put in place incrementally, with existing agencies submitting tenders to become registered Tadbeer centres.

The centres are a centralised public-private partnership, one-stop-shop for the recruitment and employment of domestic workers.  They provide visas, orientation, and training and recruitment of workers.  The centres also allow for a live-out domestic work arrangement,  an option not previously available legally.

The reforms seem to allow for much more regulation than was possible through previous recruitment processes, which took place either formally through one of the hundreds of recruitment agencies, or informally, with workers coming to the UAE on visit visas that their employers then change to domestic work visas. Now, there will be far fewer companies licensed to recruit workers and transfers of visit visas to domestic workers visas can only take place at the Tadbeer centres.

Recruitment through Tadbeer centres is distinct from previous recruitment processes. There are three different packages; under the first, workers are hired under the Tadbeer centre’s sponsorship and contracted to families for six months. Only then is the workers’ sponsorship transferred to the family, at a rate fixed by the workers’ nationality.

Under the second package, workers continue on the company’s (the Tadbeer centre’s) sponsorship.  The monthly rates for workers under company sponsorship are slightly higher.

The third package offers cleaning services, paid hourly, weekly, or monthly.   

11 Tadbeer centres are currently licensed.

The centres are not without controversy; for one, the wages remain stratified by nationality.  While the rate for workers under package 3 is the same for all nationalities, under the first package, the monthly salary is set to Dh2,500; Dh2,200 for Sri Lankan workers; Dh2,250 for workers from Bangladesh, Kenya, Nepal and India; Dh2,300 for Ethiopian and Ugandan workers.   

Advertisements for existing Tadbeer centres also still promote a worrying commodification of domestic workers. Reassurances that you can quickly “go home with your new maid” and that “you can travel with your maid” make a domestic worker sound like a new phone, rather than a person under your employment.

Additionally, while the feasibility for monitoring is high because there are so few centres, the actual monitoring mechanisms have not been made publically available. Nor have the regulations for the housing of live-out domestic workers, such as how many workers to a room, or whether or not workers can leave the complex of their own volition.  It is often assumed that workers who are not confined to an employer’s home are necessarily treated better, but as evidenced in the many cases involving cleaning company workers, this is not necessarily true unless adequate regulations on living and working conditions are implemented and enforced.

And while the reforms now require the transfer of visit visas to work visas to take place through Tadbeer the centres, the persistent legality of practice itself is questionable. Bringing workers in through visit visas is a way to circumvent bans on domestic worker deployment from origin countries, bypass minimum standards of employment and compensation imposed by origin countries, and is a conduit of trafficking. Though centralising the transfers through Tadbeer centres might help to detect incidents of trafficking if centres are given adequate training and are properly regulated, there is little publicly available information to evaluate.