Browsing 'domestic workers' News

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The passage of Qatar’s new landmark domestic workers law this week has been hailed by many rights groups as a step forward.

For the first time, nannies, cooks, gardeners, drivers and other house help in Qatar have contractual rights, such as set working hours, end-of-service benefits and rest breaks.

But the legislation still affords these workers less rights than other employees in Qatar who are covered by the labor law, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said.

Here are five examples of how:

1. Longer working days

The domestic workers law allows for a maximum 10-hour working day and unspecified rest breaks.

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The labor law however allows a maximum eight-hour workday (and 48-hour workweek), with rest required every five hours.

No paid overtime

According to the domestic workers law, household help can work overtime “if the employee agrees”, but no OT pay is required.

The labor law meanwhile stipulates that employers working late be paid at least 25 to 50 percent extra on top of their basic wage.

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According to Amnesty International, “it is not at all clear how domestic workers will be protected against pressure from employers to work longer hours.”

The group urged authorities to clarify the matter or consider amending/removing the provision.

Unclear sick leave

While the new law makes it illegal to force domestic workers to report to work when sick, it unclear whether such leave should be paid.

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Under the labor law however, employees are entitled to two weeks of sick leave at full pay, four weeks at half pay and unpaid leave after that.

Such loopholes mean household helpers are still “second-class workers with weaker protections,” said Rothna Begum, Middle East women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.

No grievance mechanism

Qatar’s domestic workers will not be able to utilize the country’s new labor dispute committee because they are not under the labor law.

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Whether they have recourse in the courts remains unclear.

This leaves them without a grievance mechanism to enforce their rights, and “has major implications for whether the new law will succeed in reducing the abuse of domestic workers,” Amnesty International said.

No inspections

While employers can be fined for flouting the domestic workers law, the legislation does not mention how the rules would be enforced.

Included in the labor law meanwhile is a clause that establishes a workplace inspection unit.

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The legislation outlines what kinds of authority inspectors have when visiting companies, and what penalties they can deliver.

“Qatar and its neighbors are moving in the right direction on domestic workers’ rights,” Begum said. “But for these highly vulnerable workers, the Gulf countries need to bolster protections and strongly enforce laws.”

Thoughts?

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Officials has revived legislation that would provide legal protection to Qatar’s nannies, drivers and cooks by creating a common contract for domestic workers.

There is currently no law regulating domestic help in Qatar.

These workers are not required to sign contracts with their employers and cannot file complaints against them with the Ministry of Labor.

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The Cabinet approved new legislation to change that yesterday, according to QNA.

It said the bill would define the rights and duties of house help such as maids, drivers and gardeners, and “regulate the relationship” between these employees and their sponsors.

The move comes six months after Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) recommended that legislation be issued to change the status quo.

Stalled law

Qatar has been discussing a draft law for several years. But officials put it on the back burner in 2014 after the GCC began talking about passing unified domestic workers legislation.

That agreement would have included one day off a week, the right to live outside the employer’s home, a six-hour working day with paid overtime and the right to travel at any time.

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However, the legislation stalled in 2015 in part over disagreements about whether it was too generous.

Rights groups criticized the development, saying a lack of legal protection leaves Qatar’s 84,000 female house helpers particularly vulnerable.

Some have been subjected to excessive working hours, late and unpaid wages, restrictions on movement and sexual assaults, groups have pointed out.

Possible provisions

QNA did not provide details of the upcoming law’s terms and conditions.

But when it was talked about in 2011, it said domestic helpers:

  • Must sign a contract with his/her employer, with the format and rules to be issued by the Labor Ministry;
  • Are entitled to free housing and food as well as breaks during an eight-hour workday;
  • Are free to practice their religion;
  • Must receive proper medical care when sick and cannot be forced to work during illness;
  • Are entitled to three weeks of annual leave;
  • Can quit at any time;
  • Must receive two weeks of basic pay as end-of-service benefits for each year worked for employer;
  • Are not responsible for paying for their visas or medical testing;
  • Must be at least 18 years old to work as a domestic helper;
  • Must be employed through a licensed manpower agency;
  • Cannot be asked to do any work other than those specified in her contract, or work that takes a heavy physical toil or is “below a woman’s dignity;” and
  • Are entitled to have their sponsor meet all expenses in the event of their death, including transporting the body home.

However, even at that time recruitment agencies expressed skepticism about enforcement of the law.

Thoughts?

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The majority of domestic workers in Qatar make about QR1,571 ($431) a month, according to a new survey by an online recruitment firm.

That’s on par with Saudi Arabia and more than in Kuwait. But household staff make marginally more in the UAE – AED1,592 ($433) a month.

The HelperChoice Domestic Worker Salary Survey Middle East 2016 was released this week.

Average domestic worker's salary in Qatar

HelperChoice

Average domestic worker’s salary in Qatar

To calculate its figures, HelperChoice used data from around 2,000 recent job advertisements in the region that were placed on its website.

The averages reflect starting salaries. They do not include other costs usually shouldered by employers, including agency fees, flights home and medical expenses.

Still, in Qatar, a QR1,500 monthly salary equates to about QR8 ($2) an hour, assuming someone is working eight-hour days, six days a week.

The reality though is that many of the country’s more than 84,000 household employees work longer hours.

Poor pay

According to a report published by a government ministry earlier this year, domestic staff in Qatar work longer hours than most people here and are among the poorest paid in the country.

Using 2014 data, the Ministry of Development, Planning and Statistics (MDPS) found that household staff worked an average of 57 hours each week.

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That was compared to 40 hours for government bureaucrats, teachers and healthcare workers.

The MDPS added that the average monthly salary for a cook, nanny or cleaner was around QR2,742 – much more than the figure cited by HelperChoice.

However, the ministry did not state if this figure included costs such as medical and travel expenses.

Worker protection

Elsewhere, HelperChoice found that domestic workers in Kuwait, which recently set a minimum wage for house help, earn less than their Gulf peers, at about $388 (KD1,117) a month.

But domestic staff there are now entitled to basic rights. That includes a 12-hour work day, a weekly day off, 30 days’ paid annual leave and end-of-service benefits.

Meanwhile, in Qatar and some other Gulf states, household workers continue to have no protection under the labor law.

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Amnesty International

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Human rights groups have called this problematic because it leaves those working as maids, nannies, cleaners, cooks and gardeners open to exploitation.

They’ve found that complaints about long hours, low pay, no holidays and restrictions on movement are relatively common.

For years, GCC countries talked about implementing a unified contract for domestic workers, but this was abandoned last January.

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Still, “the average pay offered to domestic workers was surprisingly similar between the states,” HelperChoice founder Laurence Fauchon said in a statement.

She added that base salaries were usually determined by a worker’s home country.

Thoughts?