Browsing 'maid' News

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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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Penny Yi Wang

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In what appears to be a response to complaints from some residents about hiring delays, Qatar officials has released a set of tips and regulations for sponsoring domestic workers.

The detailed rules say that it is mandatory for new recruitment contracts to be approved by the government.

The recently formed Ministry of Administrative Development and Labor and Social Affairs published the regulations on Twitter earlier this week. It’s not clear if they are new measures or a reminder of existing rules.

As it stands, some residents said they’re unaware of some of the rights outlined by the ministry:

Translation: (This) is very important because recruitment agencies refuse to give clients a copy of the contract, claiming that the contract only pertains to them and the ministry.

The vulnerability and abuse that maids and nannies in Qatar face have been repeatedly documented in recent years.

However, the ministry’s announcement emphasizes the rights of the sponsors who are hiring domestic workers through recruitment agencies.

What to know

It specifies the conditions under which one may “return” a domestic worker to a recruitment agency, such as failing the medical exam that all expats undergo upon arriving in Qatar.

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Additionally, it highlights that employers are given a three-month trial period with a new domestic worker, during which time they may cancel their agreement with the recruiting agency and request a replacement at no extra cost.

The rules also said residents are entitled to compensation if there is a delay in the domestic worker’s arrival to Qatar – an issue that’s prompted an increasing number of complaints from Qatar citizens and residents, according to Al Raya.

But at least one resident said the provisions don’t go far enough:

Translation: What’s the solution for the absconding of domestic workers?

Would-be employers are also urged to carefully review the qualifications and résumés of a prospective domestic worker before hiring them.

This could help reduce any conflict that arises between domestic workers and their employers over unmet expectations.

Last year, human rights experts found that some recruitment agencies promised to provide employees with specific skills, such as first aid or the ability to speak English fluently.

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In practice, some of the women who sign up to work in the Gulf may actually have no experience or interest in taking care of children or cooking, for example, and thought they were taking a job that only involved cleaning.

Contract registration

Domestic workers, who also include drivers and gardeners, are not covered by Qatar’s labor law, though human rights advocates have urged that this be changed.

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BunchandBrock Law

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Observers said this leaves the group particularly vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous employers and gives them little legal recourse.

Though domestic helpers are not covered by the labor law, some said one of the requirements publicized this week – mandating that recruitment contracts be approved by the government – has the potential to give domestic workers an additional layer of protection.

“The fact that they have to go through the labor ministry is a good step,” Gonar Musor, the deputy head of mission at the Philippines embassy in Qatar, told Doha News. “It’s a big step for Qatar to recognize domestic workers as part of the expat workforce.”

Currently, the relationship between the recruiting agency, domestic worker and employer is “quite ad hoc,” said Vani Saraswathi, an advisor with Migrant-Rights.org, which co-produced a guide for Qatar residents hiring domestic workers earlier this year.

“Registering a contract with the labor department is definitely a step in the (right) direction,” she told Doha News.

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However, she pointed out that there’s no mention of the contract containing provisions such as a minimum wage, a maximum number of work hours, a day of rest or holiday time.

Some of these stipulations were supposed to be part of a GCC-wide common domestic worker contract that was debated for more than a year before being abandoned in late 2014.

At the time, ministers said it would be up to individual countries to draft their own measures. Since then, however, there’s been no public indication on the part of the Qatar government that changes are planned.

Thoughts?

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A Qatari military officer and his Emirati wife returned to a US court yesterday on charges that they abused two domestic workers by withholding their wages and passports, as well as beating one with a stick when she dug through trash in search of food.

The defense lawyer for Hassan Salem H. M. Al Homoud argued before a judge that the couple intended to pay the two victims – a woman from Bangladesh and one from Indonesia – when they returned to Qatar and that the case was actually one of cultural differences, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

Attorney Gerry Goldstein was quoted as saying people with similar social backgrounds as the victims don’t need the amenities that investigators said were missing from their accommodation, which was separate from where their sponsors lived.

He added that they are accustomed to eating on the floor, sleeping on mats and not using toilet paper in their home country.

“It’s not as horrific conditions as one might suspect,” Goldstein reportedly said. “They live in a country where this is how it is.”

Forced labor

Al Homoud, who was attending military training at a US army training camp in San Antonio, and his wife, Zainab Al Hosani, were arrested earlier this year after a local police officer found one of the women in “apparent distress.”

An investigation found that the domestic workers, who were brought to the US from Qatar by the couple when the family moved to Texas in 2014, were subjected to forced labor, according to an affidavit signed by a special agent assigned to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement division of the Department of Homeland Security.

Bruises on the Indonesian victim.

Chantelle D'mello

Bruises on the Indonesian victim.

The case illustrates how such allegations are handled differently in the US and GCC states, where domestic workers are generally not protected by national labor laws.

Earlier this year in Qatar, an Indonesian woman was hospitalized for three days after being beaten by her employer. While the Indonesian embassy in Doha said police were following the case, the victim said she was never interviewed by officers.

Instead, she spent time in a Qatar detention center after being discharged from hospital, “forgave” her employer and left the country with QR8,500 to cover unpaid wages and her plane ticket home.

Because the woman did not press charges, any form of criminal prosecution is unlikely.

Plea deal

This week, prosecutors and defense lawyers proposed a plea deal that would see Al Homoud and his wife, Zainab Al Hosani, plead guilty to visa fraud, pay US$60,000 to each of the victims and serve little to no jail time, according to the Express-News.

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The report said the US government is trying to avoid putting the two victims – both of whom want to return to their families as soon as possible – through the additional trauma of a trial.

But the judge hearing the case, Orlando Garcia, was cool to the suggestion, the Express-News reported, and questioned the amount of compensation.

“$120,000? Are you kidding me?” the judge was quoted as saying. “That should be higher, much higher. I am so offended by that amount … You’d be giving the defendants almost a complete pass.”

In defending the proposed plea deal, the prosecutor reportedly said the government of Qatar had been consulted on the case and, in light of the accusations, had prohibited military officials from bringing domestic workers with them to foreign countries.

The judge said he would take the matter under advisement.

Forced labor allegations

According to an affidavit, the apartment that the two victims lived in was “virtually empty” with no furnishings, minimal toiletries and no toilet paper, linens, utensils, clothes, television, reading material or communication devices. The victims also did not have keys to the apartment.

Each morning, the women were transported from their apartment to work as housekeepers.

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During the day, they were allowed to eat the family’s leftovers but tried to limit their intake of food and water because their access to the bathrooms in the house was “extremely limited and often forbidden.”

On one occasion, Al Hosani beat the Indonesian woman with a stick for digging in the trash in search of food, according to the affidavit.

The document said they were not permitted to rest inside the house and instead stayed in a portable plastic shed in the garage while they were not working during the day.

The two victims told the special agent that they had never been paid, but kept working because they had no money, no one to turn to for help and no passports. Furthermore, they said Al Hosani threatened them with jail time in Qatar if they breached their contract.

During an interview with the agent, Al Homoud admitted to holding the victims’ passports and turned over the travel documents, along with the Indonesian woman’s cell phone, to authorities. According to the affidavit, he also admitted to not paying the women.

Thoughts?