A weekly day off, the right to live outside their employer’s home, a six-hour working day with paid overtime and the right to travel at any time are set to be part of a new domestic workers contract agreed to by GCC labor ministers, including Qatar’s.
The draft provisions were agreed upon by Labor and Social Affairs Ministers who met in Kuwait earlier this week.
They are expected to be ratified during the third consultative meeting for Asian labor-sending and labor-receiving countries, known as the Abu Dhabi Dialogue, which takes place today and tomorrow, also in Kuwait.
Unifying working conditions of domestic labor in Qatar and across the rest of the Gulf have long been discussed, but little movement has been made on any solid proposals.
This latest contract was first proposed in early 2013, but then stalled in subsequent talks as member states failed to agree on clauses such as a mandatory day off and a cap on working hours.
Now it would appear that the ministers have resolved their differences, as the director general of the public authority for workforce Jamal Al-Dosari confirmed to Kuwaiti state news agency KUNA that undersecretaries had finally agreed on the key aspects of the contract. He was quoted as saying:
“The blueprint of the contract provides for the right to leave, sets the daily working hours at six and paid overtime at two hours, and requires provision of decent dwelling.
“It bans employers from holding the passports of employees, ensures the freedom of housemaids to move or live outside the home of employer or travel at any time, and commits employers to furnish their housemaids with air ticket in case final termination of their contract.”
The single contract, which would affect around 2.4 million domestic staff working in the region’s six GCC countries, is expected to come into effect once it has been approved by labor ministers, possibly this week.
Meanwhile, a Bahraini labor ministry official invited human rights groups and foreign labor organizations to share their observations and concerns about domestic workers with GCC countries.
Undersecretary Sabah Al-Dosari added: “We in the GCC countries welcome the foreign workers and appreciate their contributions to the development of our countries.”
Earlier this week, 90 human rights and labor organizations issued a joint statement, reiterating calls for urgent action to protect migrant workers from abuse in the Gulf.
“Whether it’s the scale of abuse of domestic workers hidden from public view or the shocking death toll among construction workers, the plight of migrants in the Gulf demands urgent and profound reform,” said Rothna Begum, Middle East women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. This should include a thorough overhaul of the abusive kafala visa sponsorship system.”
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which represents the rights of workers throughout the world, told Doha News that while it welcomed the introduction of rights for domestic workers, it wanted to see the detail of the new provisions to ensure they complied with Convention 189 of the International Labor Organization, which outlined its own minimum requirements for domestic workers.
“We call on the Labor Ministers to make this draft public, so we can review the detail and make sure that what is being proposed complies with Convention 189. If it does, then of course we would welcome it,” an ITUC spokesperson said.
However, she said that questions remained over how the new contract would be enforced.
“There must be a robust inspection and reporting system in place for workers to use if they have to,” she added.
Pressure for reform
Complaints of low pay, abuse and poor working conditions among housemaids and other domestic staff in the region are common.
In April last year, Amnesty International published a 63-page report “My sleep is my break: Exploitation of migrant domestic workers in Qatar,” which called for a total overhaul of the system governing the rights of domestic staff, which it described as being broken beyond repair.
The report, which comprised of interviews with 52 women working as maids, included harrowing accounts of psychological, physical and sometimes sexual abuse of domestic workers based in Qatar, at the hands of both local and expat sponsors.
Using figures from the 2010 census, the report estimated that around 84,000 women in Qatar work in a domestic service role. Typically from poor countries, the women are a particularly vulnerable group that are subject to kafala rules, but are not currently protected under the country’s labor law.
Some of the most common complaints include being made to sign substitute contracts on a lower salary and with poorer working conditions, not having a day off, not being allowed out on their own and long working hours.
Human rights organizations also report maids suffering physical and sexual violence and verbal abuse from their employers.
Those who choose to leave their situation are classified as “runaways” and can be arrested and jailed, pending deportation.
UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants Francois Creppeau found last November that most women being held here had left their employers due to poor working conditions. He encouraged authorities to stop punishing domestic workers for being abused.
Also on the agenda for labor ministers is to discuss changes to the kafala (sponsorship) system, which restricts the movement of workers between employers.
Qatar first announced in May plans to revise its system to make it easier for expats to change jobs and leave the country. However no firm date has been set for when these would come into effect.
Good. They deserve the best. Atleast by staying outside they will be more safer with their relatives
“ensures the freedom of housemaids to move or live outside the home of employer or travel at any time”
that doesnt really help if they cant afford to live in their own place.
as for the rest of the stuff thats all well in good but they need to educate maids and house workers what there rights are and give them a place or service that can be easily contacted if anyone tries to take those rights
The agent who appoints them should arrange a maid accommodation or gcc should build accommodation only for maids with all necessary recreational facilities
the agents dont do the maids any favours, usually they just lie to them about there salary and work conditions. as well as lying to the person asking for maids about the maids level of english or arabic speaking.
as for the GCC no government will build accomodation for private individuals or companies to house there employees for free. what they should be doing is building accomodation that can be cheap enough for maids to use, provide cheap public transport for them to go from there to work and have a minimum wage. all that stuff though is decades away probably
The public transport is a good point. If you have effective public transport then people can get around more easily AND house price inflation is kept under control. The solution is Q-Lanes that can only be used by public transport and Qatari drivers. Everything would start moving faster and everyone else can sit around in the traffic if they’re not prepared to catch the bus. Win win for everyone – but especially lower paid employees..
It is important also that GCC governments encourage their citizens to get used to life without a maid. I also recommend they put a maximum of one helper per family, even if the family is very large. This means that they have to choose between a maid and a driver.
This will be a great step in the right direction once implemented and “enforced” effectively.
Fantastic ….but will it translate to real changes to the conditions of the maids, or will it just be words…..
Hopefully they will put this draft into practice for this group of poorly paid, harassed and abused workers instead of making a show of agreeing and ratifying the draft and then just keeping it on the records for showing the auditors or others who come along investigating if the new rules and procedures are being followed. Looks like a little step in the right direction
It would be nice to think that this this signals a change of direction in Qatar towards humanity, especially to decriminalise “runaways”. However, the track record of Qatar is that what “enforcement” exists is slanted towards protecting the employer’s rights and not those of the employees. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see a change? – but I won’t hold my breath.
No one is agree with this decision. Many Maids are getting alots of freedoms in the house when everyone àt work everything free from cup of tea to dinner. They are the one who have more time to stay in the house and do what they want. If this rules is win there will be alot of troubles i guarantee. If any housemaid is bring abuse should go to complain at embassy. Why there is embassy for. Than the embassy should decide what to do.
Let me guess…you do the recruiting? Or do you just enjoy not paying OT? Or maybe you`re working at their embassy and get some bags of rice to misplace files…
That’s a racist comment!
I’ll apologize, but where’s the racist part? Is it the rice bit? Really? Rice is racist? I’ll take it back and replace it with sabji. Hope you’re better now 😉
No, rice is not racist. But attributing it in such a way to south east asians is. It’s the same racial slur about bananas and africans. So if you consider the later racist then the rice slur is also racist.
Is sabji ok? If you don’t know what sabji is it means you’re racist.
Free cup of coffee to dinner !!?? And your point being ? Maids are not allowed to consume coffee or have dinner for free ? What bloody prehistoric cave did you crawl out from? They are humans who work for a living…they are neither above you or beneath you. You are one of those people who’s mom should have drowned you when you were a kid !!
So they have a lot of freedom, they stay in the house, everything is free, they do what they want, it’s easy for them to get help. Sounds awesome. What have you been smoking??
The embassy doesn’t have any real power over the host nation. If Qatari law doesn’t provide some level of protection the embassy can only appeal to the powers that be and hope that they’ll do something to help. but then that usually just means trying to get someone out of a contract and/or out of the country, not protect them while they remain employed. I’m glad you’re such a champion for their rights though. /sarc.
I feel these are words with no substance!! It is about time and its not just about educating the poor maids but their employers as well. When you see how these maids are treated it makes your blood boil! Especially when their employers feel its their right to be so cruel. And the next question is who is going to implement these and who check??
I’m working as a housemaid all i want is a good salary and they provide us a dress we don’t need to stay outside but they have to follow the rules that we sign in contract.every week had a 1 day off,8 hours working,salary 400$!all this are not followed by sponsor unless the other’s.we can go out once a month only but only 2,3 to 4 hour’s only!if we got home very late too many questions why we are late!but what we can do we are not the only person who sent money in western union.i just commented here to let you know that not all housemaid are blessed by there sponsored!We are a housemaid but we are a human too.
Now for actual enforcement of such provisions. I won’t hold my breath.