Approved by the Cabinet in January, the bill will take effect once it passes the Federal National Council and is signed into law by President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
With the new law, domestic helpers will be entitled to an end-of-service gratuity, at least one weekly day off, and a written contract of employment. Employers will also have to pay the recruitment agency fees and pay the maids' salaries in cash at least once a month.
"Once they implement this law, I think the number of housemaids who abscond from their employers will lessen," Lanie Sanchez, a Filipino housemaid who is the vice president of an organisation of domestic helpers in Dubai, told Gulf News.
"Most housemaids who run away from their bosses usually complain of maltreatment or non-payment of salaries. Others complain of no day off. With these covered under the new law, I think these problems will lessen," Sanchez added.
Helen, an Ethiopian housemaid who absconded from her employers last year, agreed.
"The biggest problem of housemaids from my experience is that we are not allowed to go out. When I was with my last employer, they would lock the door to prevent me from going out," Helen said.
"It is good to hear that we now have more security and rights. It will make us feel safer. But we want to see the law implemented first," Sanchez said.
Migrante-UAE, a Filipino workers' advocacy group, which receives an average of seven complaints a week from Filipino domestic workers, lauded the UAE cabinet for passing the draft law. "We welcome the new law for domestic workers as a first step in protecting of our domestic workers. They are the most vulnerable workers here in the UAE. Unlike us who are under the UAE labour law, these domestic helpers do not have that kind of protection that is why some employers tend to get away with the abuses they commit against these workers," Nel Morona, secretary-general of Migrante-UAE, said.
Khalid Rasheed, an Emirati and father of four who lives in Dubai, said that employers like himself who treated their domestic workers properly would have to worry about the new law.
He currently employs two maids from the Philippines and Indonesia, as well as a driver from Pakistan. "I always treat my domestic workers humanely and make sure their rights are observed…they are given days off and one is even allowed to attend church every Sunday. Also, if they are sick, we admit them to a private hospital and shoulder the costs of their treatment," Rasheed said.
"However, the rights of the employers should also be addressed to ensure that all parties are treated fairly. In addition, the law should not simply deal with enhancing rights and raising awareness for domestic workers — employers and families must also be educated as to how they should treat their domestic workers," he added.
Sultan Al Mazroui, a 35-year-old Emirati in Abu Dhabi and educational executive, agreed with Rasheed's assessment.
"Educating families is an important step towards protecting workers... And for those who know of these human rights and do not follow them, the law will be a vital deterrent against abuse," he said.
According to the Ministry of Interior's statistics at the end of 2007, there were around 750,000 domestic workers in the UAE, making up nearly 20 per cent of the expatriate work force. They outnumber family members in 22 per cent of Emirati families.
Over the years, many domestic worker abuses have also been reported to shelters.
— With inputs by Samihah Zaman, Nathalie Farah, and Nada Al Taher, Staff Reporters
Dubai: A European Union parliamentarian delegation said it was impressed by the progress made by the UAE and called on Emiratis to work for a greater integration of communities and increased tolerance for different cultures and traditions.
The visiting EU group are on a tour of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) including the UAE.
The delegation, which met with members of the UAE Federal National Council (FNC), including its speaker Mohammad Ahmad Al Mur, Governor of the UAE Central Bank Sultan Bin Nasser Al Suwaidi and Minister of Foreign Affairs Shaikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, called for greater observance of human rights, while hailing UAE's commitment to international conventions.
"We are impressed by the progress made by the UAE in such a short period of time and what is more impressive is the peaceful coexistence of different communities here. We came here to understand the cultures and traditions of different GCC countries, which is part of our effort to establish closer ties with GCC countries, especially the UAE," said Angelika Niebler from Germany, head of the EU delegation.
Hailing the GCC countries efforts towards forming a union, Niebler said the GCC can learn a thing or two from the EU's experiences in this regard.