Monday, September 19, 2005

Labour ministry powerless to prevent abuse of maids

By Bassma Al Jandaly, Staff Reporter
Published: 19/9/2005, 07:59 (UAE)

Dubai: Labour ministry officials say they know that recruitment agencies are abusing foreign housemaids they bring into the country to work, but say the ministry is powerless to oversee their activities.

Asked by Gulf News about complaints from housemaids that agencies keep them in tiny attics, beat them and give them very little to eat before delivering them to their sponsor, an official from the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs said he was aware of what was happening.

“Yes, hundreds of housemaids are mistreated by the agencies, and we know that,” he said. “But we can’t inspect them and go inside to find out what is going on. Even the Interior Ministry cannot do that. The agencies are taking advantage of this.”

A Gulf News reporter visited four recruitment agencies in Dubai, Sharjah and Ajman, posing as a potential employer. In one agency about 25 housemaids of different nationalities were crowded into a small room above the office. They crouched silently on the floor.

“Take one,” the woman at the agency said. Gulf News saw a lady at one agency slap one of the housemaids who had been returned by a dissatisfied client. The maid had neither done nor said anything before she was slapped in the face.The official said the labour and interior ministries were both powerless because neither had full oversight over the issue.

The labour ministry merely issued licences for the agencies to pursue their business in the UAE. As for the Interior Ministry, he said its Immigration and Naturalisation Department issued visas for the housemaids.The official said: “Everything to do with these agencies should be placed under one ministry, and we have suggested that it should be the Interior Ministry. “We want to explain this problem to the media.

These agencies mistreat people and break the law because they are not under full control of anybody,” he said. An Indonesian housemaid named Hini, now working for a family in Sharjah, said the previous housewife who employed her in Abu Dhabi forced her to wear a veil day and night in the house because she was young and pretty.When the housewife found her sleeping without a headscarf, she said, “She kicked me and woke me up, asking me to cover my hair while sleeping.

I cried a lot and I asked them to send me back to the agency, who also mistreated me and they used to beat me until I found another sponsor who treated me well.” She said back at the agency in Dubai dozens of maids were kept in a small room.

Maria, another housemaid at another agency in Sharjah, said she and 20 other housemaids were kept in a small attic above the agency.

A woman who runs a labour recruitment agency in Sharjah told Gulf News she kept the housemaids in an attic at the agency while they were awaiting deportation or changes in their visas.

Number of domestic workers set to grow

The number of foreign housemaids in the UAE is estimated at 300,000. They represent 20 per cent of the workforce. However, this number is expected to rise to 800,000 by 2010, according to figures released by Dubai Municipality two years ago.

They come from India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, East Africa.

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