United Arab Emirates: New Rights For Domestic Workers In The GCC

Last Updated: 17 November 2017
Article by Sara Khoja and Sarit Thomas

Regulating work in private households is a difficult and sensitive issue which historically has not fallen within the remit of the Labour Ministries in the GCC. However, over the past two years, with the international focus on migrant labour, new legislation empowering the Labour Ministries to regulate this segment of the private sector has been passed. This article provides an overview of the new regulations to a sector that is employed by millions in private households to undertake important roles such as caring for children and the elderly, driving, cleaning, cooking and other tasks.

There are at least 67 million domestic workers in the world, representing a significant part of the global workforce1.  The exploitation of domestic workers can partly be attributed to gaps in national labour and employment legal protections and reflects discrimination along the lines of sex, race and caste.

The ILO's Domestic Workers Convention (2011, No. 189) sets out basic labour rights for domestic workers.  This Convention tries to improve the recognition of the economic and social value of domestic work and to address the existing exclusions of domestic workers from labour and social protection.  To date, 23 countries have ratified the ILO Convention and a number of other countries have introduced domestic legislation extending the basic labour rights of domestic workers in their country in alignment with the ILO Convention. 

Whilst not being signatories to the ILO Convention, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and Qatar have each introduced legislative and policy enactments to improve the rights of domestic workers.  This article provides a comparative overview of the legislation in these jurisdictions and gives an insight into regional market trends.

United Arab Emirates

The UAE has introduced Federal Law No. 10 of 2017 on Support Service Workers (UAE Domestic Workers Law), which came into force on 12 August 2017.  The UAE Domestic Workers Law affords domestic workers fundamental working rights, which previously were absent.  The law applies to such individuals working at the temporary or permanent residence of their employer, including private farms and captures 19 occupations, including housemaid, cook, gardener, driver and more unusual roles such as herdsman, falconer and private agricultural engineer.

Executive Regulations under the UAE Domestic Workers Law have not yet been published, which are likely to expand on the provisions of the law.  The law introduces a number of minimum statutory entitlements and additional requirements for employees (set out below). 

Qatar

Qatar issued its Domestic Workers Law No 15 of 2017 (Qatar Domestic Workers Law) on 22 August 2017, with a view to introducing a regulatory platform for the protection of some 173,742 domestic workers employed in the country (according to the government's 2016 labour force statistics report). 

The new law defines domestic worker as an individual "who performs house work under the management and supervision of the employer in return for a wage" and goes on to provide examples of the types of occupations that would be captured by such definition, including; driver, nanny, cook and gardener.  The law does not appear to provide a list of occupations in the same manner that the UAE Domestic Workers Law appears to do.

It is expected that further implementing regulations will be issued which may provide further clarity with respect to the work's minimum entitlements.  For example, whilst the new law provides that employers are required to refrain from obliging workers to work during any sick leave, the law does not prescribe a minimum sick leave period.  Currently, the law sets out the minimum statutory entitlements (set out below).

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

In August 2013 Saudi published Ministerial Decision No. 310 of 1434 regulating the employment of domestic workers.  In February 2017 Saudi issued new Ministerial Decision No. 605 of 1434 permitting domestic workers to transfer between employers in certain circumstances (together the KSA Domestic Workers Law).  Domestic workers under the 'KSA Domestic Workers Law' includes both male and female household workers, private chauffeurs, gardeners, and security guards.  The law sets out certain minimum worker entitlements and obligations on the parties (set out below).

Minimum Statutory Entitlements

Provision UAE Qatar KSA
Working hours Clarification expected in the Executive Regulations 10 hours per day (excluding rest breaks) unless the parties agree otherwise -
Daily Break At least 12 hours per day* 10 hours per day (excluding rest breaks) unless the parties agree otherwise At least 9 hours per day
Rest Day 1 day per week* 1 day per week 1 day per week
Wages Monthly and no later than 10 days from due date Month end and no later than the 3rd day of the following month Islamic calendar month end, unless contractually agreed otherwise
Probation 6 months Term subject to a decision by the Minister of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs (the Ministry) 90 days
Annual Leave 30 days per annum 3 weeks per annum 1 month every 2 years
Sick Leave 30 days per annum - 30 days per annum
Airfare Return flight once every two years Return flight once every two years -
End of service Gratuity 14 days per year of service 3 weeks per year of service 1 month wage for every 4 consecutive years of service

*Further clarification expected in the Executive Regulations

Additional Obligations and Worker Protection Provisions

Provision UAE Qatar KSA
Employment Contract An approved Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MHRE) contract must be executed for a maximum term of two year, renewable A Ministry certified contract must be executed in Arabic A written employment contract (in Arabic) must be executed
Basic needs Worker must be given appropriate accommodation, medical, food and supplies Workers must be given accommodation, food and healthcare Workers must be given suitable accommodation and healthcare
Discrimination Discrimination against workers prohibited on the basis of race, colour, gender, religion, political ideology, nationality and social origin - -
Abuse Prohibition on any verbal, physical sexual harassment and forced labour.  Employer to treat the worker well and keep the worker safe Worker to be treated well, with dignity and not be exposed to physical or mental abuse Employer to treat the worker with dignity and keep the worker safe
Age Limits Workers must be between 18-60 years of age (subject to maximum exceptions) Workers must be between 18-60 years (subject to maximum exceptions) -
Workplace Injury Worker entitled to compensation for any injury sustained whilst in work Compensation for workplace injury as per the Labour Law -
Transfer of Employment Not detailed.  Will be as per immigration laws Not detailed.  Will be as per immigration laws Domestic workers are permitted to transfer their employment to a new employer in certain circumstances
Termination rights Either party may terminate the contract in specified circumstances Either party may terminate the contract in specified circumstances Either party may terminate the contract in specified circumstances
Dispute Resolution MHRE has the power to inspect the premises in certain circumstances, mediate disputes, and attend to complaints made by either party against the other As per the Labour Law Ministry of Labour and Social Development will attend to complaints made by either party against the other
Limitation Period 6 months limitation period with respect to any claims arising following termination of the contract 1 year limitation period with respect to any claims arising following termination of the contract -
Penalties Between AED 10,000 -200,000 fine and/or up to 6 months jail sentence (subject to more severe penalties under any other laws) QAR 5,000 – 10,000 (subject to more severe penalties under any other laws) Employer may be subject to a fine between SAR 2,000 - 5,000 and/or be banned from sponsoring domestic workers for a period of between 1 – 3 years (subject to more severe penalties under any other laws).  Domestic worker may be subject to a fine of SAR 2,000 and a work ban (subject to more severe penalties under any other laws)

Worker Obligations

Provision UAE Qatar KSA
Duties To diligently perform their duties, in accordance with the employer's instructions To diligently perform their duties and not to harm children and the elderly within the household To diligently perform their duties, in accordance with the employer's instructions, not to harm children and the elderly within the household and maintain the employer's belongings and property.
Privacy & Confidentiality Preserve the employer's privacy and maintain any confidential secrets Preserve the employer's privacy and maintain any secrets Preserve the employer's privacy and maintain any secrets

Domestic Workers Recruitment Offices – UAE only

The UAE Domestic Workers Law imposes a number of obligations on domestic workers recruitment offices, including the requirement for the owner and the manager (who must be a UAE national) to have good behaviour and conduct. Taking commission, for securing a position, from the worker is prohibited. 

Recruitment offices are required to comply with certain obligations, including; providing the worker with accurate details of the role prior to recruitment, providing temporary accommodation as necessary, educating the worker in terms of the worker's rights and complaint avenue and ensuring that the worker is treated well and is not vulnerable to violence.  They are also obliged to bear the worker's repatriation costs, provide a substitute worker to the employer in certain circumstances, as provided for under the law and repay certain monies, which the executive regulations are expected to set out, in circumstances where the worker terminates the contract following completion of the probationary period without cause or an acceptable reason.

Regional Trends

The new statutory provisions do seek to address the imbalance of domestic workers rights and legal protection and provide a positive step in tackling exploitation of this vulnerable group of workers.

An additional recent development is the increased awareness of companies and individuals to consider their responsibility and the role they can play in the employment and treatment of domestic workers.  We have seen companies start to look at their own employee's employment of domestic workers from a supply chain and reputation risk perspective, with internal policies (akin to codes of conduct) being created to govern and encourage employees in their employment and treatment of domestic workers.  These corporate measures can be placed within the wider international context of laws such as the UK Modern Slavery Act 2015, the California Supply Chains Act 2010 and, the French law from February 2017 on corporate human rights and environmental due diligence on supply chains.

Footnote

1. The International labour Organisation (ILO), 'Global estimates on migrant workers', 2015

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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