Confusion over UAE contracts for domestic workers
Absolute confusion reigned in Sri Lanka last week in the sector dealing with migrant workers after United Arab Emirates (UAE) authorities introduced a new ‘unified’ contract for domestic workers, officials said.
The new contract, effective since June, is an agreement between the employer (sponsor) and the worker and doesn’t need the authentication of the embassies of the sending countries.
Nearly 12,000 females went to the UAE in 2013 to work as domestic workers with an estimated 40,000-50,000 Sri Lankan domestic workers presently employed in the seven emirates of the UAE (Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah).
The authentication or verification of labour contracts by the various embassies in the case of domestic workers has been in practice for many years, either by regulation or law in sending countries, as a safeguard against a violation of the rights of workers. Both the Philippines and Indonesia have suspended the recruitment of domestic workers to the UAE pending further clarification on the matter, as it impacts on the lawful process of recruitment, according to foreign media reports.
In the Sri Lankan case, a spokesperson for the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) said on Friday morning that the matter was being discussed at the highest levels.
Recruitment agents in Colombo said they were still trying to understand the new contract. “Some of the job orders are on hold until we are able to get a proper interpretation of the contract,” one agent said.
While the new contract format for domestic workers has been welcomed by all sections of society – sending governments, migrant workers and human rights groups -, the issue at stake is a circular sent out by the UAE saying there is no requirement now for the contract to be authenticated by an embassy of a sending country. Experts say this would affect the ability of a country to look after its citizens working in another country.
L.K. Ruhunage, a labour migration consultant and former Additional General Manager at SLBFE, said according to reports the process of dispute settlement has now been vested with the UAE authorities thus barring the intervention of Labour Attaches of embassies in such situations. “Under the Vienna Convention of 1962, looking after interests of its citizens is a responsibility of a diplomatic mission in a host country. Taking away such rights from a diplomatic mission cannot be an acceptable position,” he told the Business Times.The process, until the new contract came into force, was where the contract was first signed by the employer, agent and embassy (representing the worker) in the receiving country, and in the sending country (Sri Lanka), by the agent and worker in the presence of an SLBFE official. Now the five signatories on the contract have been reduced to two.
UAE authorities argue that the new contract gives the emirates legal authority to penalise any party – agent or worker – for violation of the contract, an authority it did not have earlier.
They said the (previous) “double contracts” were incontravention of the legal rules, principles and international standards, which stipulate full transparency and clarity of the contracts and define responsibilities. This would not be valid with two separate contracts with different conditions and terms.
Human rights groups have been campaigning for a proper contract that would protect workers and the unified contract is a result of years of discussion on this issue. The new contract specifies at least 8 hours continuous rest during the day, 30 days paid leave at the contract period or in lieu of leave, payment of 30 days salary and round trip air ticket cost to the worker, provision for facilitation of communication with family back home, payment of salary on regular basis with written acknowledgement, etc.
Mr. Ruhunuge said while the above provisions are favourable to the worker, the new contract does not have provision to indicate the details of either the UAE or Sri Lankan recruitment agent who are directly involved in procuring the placement of the worker.“Further, the new contract allows the employer to make salary deductions in recovering the damages/losses made by the worker which will impact unfavourably on the worker as an interpretation of such events can be made by the employer on his/her own wish,” he said, adding that another concern condition is, that making the rights of the second party null (worker) and void if the worker suddenly leaves the employer. “This implies that under any bad condition, the worker has to stay with the employer to secure her legal rights,” he said.