The UAE has dismissed a recent report by Human Rights Watch about the abuse of foreign domestic workers in the country saying that it has “drawn sweeping conclusions based on a small, unrepresentative sample.”
Official news agency WAM quoted Amna Al Meheiri, director of the Human Rights department of the Foreign Ministry, as saying: “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 HRW report, issued late last week, interviewed 99 female domestic workers in the UAE, as well as recruitment agencies, lawyers, and others and claimed that migrant domestic workers in the UAE are “beaten, exploited, and trapped in forced labour situations.”
The NGO said 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. The UAE government did have a short meeting with HRW representatives in September but did not address any domestic worker issues.
The 79-page report highlighted that the UAE’s visa sponsorship system and the “lack of labour law protections” leave migrant domestic workers exposed to abuse.
Labour-sending countries also don’t fully protect the workers against deceptive recruitment practices or provide adequate assistance to abused nationals abroad, it added.
“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.”
However, Al Meheiri said that the report “misses the bigger picture.”
“The UAE provides economic opportunities to people of 200 different nationalities and is committed to the continuous improvement of protection for foreign workers,” she said.
“It 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.”
One of the measures in place is a standard form contract 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, with the employer generally bearing 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.
Domestic workers are also provided with important legal protections under the civil transaction law, federal criminal law, and the law on countering human trafficking, WAM reported.
“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 said.
“The UAE will also engage in dialogue with their home countries to resolve issues that arise,” she added.