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ECHR | Emirates Center for Human Rights

Human Rights Watch: Migrant Domestic Workers in UAE Abused

HomeReports and ArticlesHuman Rights Watch: Migrant Domestic Workers in UAE AbusedHuman Rights Watch: Migrant Domestic Workers in UAE Abused

Human Rights Watch: Migrant Domestic Workers in UAE Abused

– Tanzanian domestic workers in Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) face excessive working hours, unpaid salaries, and physical and sexual abuse, Human Rights Watch said in a report.

 Abusive visa-sponsorship rules in those countries and gaps in Tanzania’s policies leave the women exposed to exploitation.

The 100-page report, “‘Working Like a Robot’: Abuse of Tanzanian Domestic Workers in Oman and the United Arab Emirates,” documents how the Tanzanian, Omani, and UAE governments fail to protect Tanzanian migrant domestic workers. Oman and the UAE’s kafala – visa-sponsorship – rules tie workers to their employers, and the lack of labor law protections leaves workers exposed to a wide range of abuse. Gaps in Tanzania’s laws and policies on recruitment and migration leave Tanzanian women exposed at the outset to abuse and fail to provide adequate assistance for exploited workers.

“Many Tanzanian domestic workers in Oman and the UAE are overworked, underpaid, and abused behind closed doors,” said Rothna Begum, Middle East women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Workers who fled abusive employers or agents told us the police or their own embassy officials forced them to go back, or they had to relinquish their salaries and spend months raising money for tickets home.”

Most domestic workers in the Gulf states are Asian, many from Indonesia, the Philippines, India, and Sri Lanka. As these countries have incrementally increased protections and minimum salary requirements to protect their domestic workers – and in some cases banned recruitment to the Gulf entirely – recruiters are increasingly turning to East Africa, where protections are weaker. Gulf employers often get away with paying East African workers far less than those from other countries.

Oman and the UAE exclude domestic workers from their labor laws. Oman’s 2004 domestic worker regulations are weak, with no penalties for employer breaches, and it is the last country in the Gulf region not to provide labor rights in law. In September 2017, the UAE issued a law providing domestic workers with labor rights for the first time, but lesser protections than for workers under the general labor law.

The kafala system remains the largest impediment to domestic workers’ rights in Oman and the UAE, and should be ended, Human Rights Watch said. Domestic workers cannot change employers without their initial employer’s consent, and those who flee can be charged with “absconding.”

Some workers said their employers or agents forced them to forego their salaries as a condition for their “release,” work for a new employer who repaid recruitment costs to the initial employer, or work unpaid for months in return for flight tickets home or to recoup recruitment fees. In Oman, police and Manpower Ministry officials sometimes abet efforts by employers to recover their costs from their workers who fled abuse. The UAE’s new law prohibits agents from charging fees or requiring reimbursement of recruitment fees, but does not prohibit employers from doing so. Instead, it requires workers who wish to leave before the end of their contract, unless the employer breaches the contract, to pay the employer one month’s salary.

While Tanzania has expanded some protections for overseas migrant domestic workers since 2011, gaps in Tanzania’s recruitment and migration policies place workers at heightened risk from the outset and provide little opportunity for redress.

Tanzania requires workers to process their applications to migrate through the country’s labor ministries, but many workers migrate outside of this channel.

The authorities require women to migrate through a recruitment agency but have not set out minimum standards for how agencies assist workers in cases of abuse, or for inspections and penalties in case of violations. While regulations in mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar prohibit agencies from charging fees and costs to workers, many women said agents charged them anyway.

Read the full report here

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