BANGLADESH: BD female workers face abuses in UAE: HRW

Sunday 26 October 2014

Date: 24 October 2014

Source: The Financial Express

Type: News

Keywords: Women’s rights, violence against women

Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a report released Thursday said migrant domestic workers from Bangladesh and many other Asian and African countries are beaten, exploited and trapped in forced labour situations in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The New York-based international non-governmental organisation (NGO) that conducts research and advocacy on human rights said the UAE government, about to take up an influential new role in the International Labour Organization (ILO), has failed to adequately protect female domestic workers from abuse by employers and recruiters.

The 79-page report titled I Already Bought You: Abuse and Exploitation of Female Migrant Domestic Workers in the United Arab Emirates", documents how the UAE’s visa sponsorship system, known as kafala, and the lack of labour law protections leave migrant domestic workers exposed to abuse.

The report said domestic workers, most from Asia and Africa, cannot move to a new job before their contracts end without the employers’ consent, trapping many in abusive conditions.

Labour-sending countries don’t fully protect the workers against deceptive recruitment practices or provide adequate assistance to the abused nationals abroad, it said.

"The UAE’s sponsorship system chains domestic workers to their employers and then leaves them isolated and at risk of abuse behind the closed doors of private homes," said Rothna Begum, Middle East women’s rights researcher at the HRW.

"With no labour law protections for domestic workers, employers can, and many do, overwork, underpay, and abuse these women," she said.

The HRW interviewed 99 female domestic workers in the UAE, as well as recruitment agencies, lawyers, and others. It also sent letters to 15 UAE ministries and bodies in January, April, and August to seek information, request meetings, and present its findings but received no response.

The UAE government did have a short meeting with the global rights group representatives in September but did not address any domestic worker issues.

Domestic workers told the HRW about not being paid, not having rest periods or time off, being confined in the employer’s homes, and of excessive workloads, with working days of up to 21 hours.

They described being deprived of food and reported psychological, physical, and sexual abuse. Many said their employers treated them like animals, or as if they were dirty and physical contact with them would be contaminating. In some cases the abuses amounted to forced labour or trafficking.

"My boss started hitting me after two weeks of being there," one worker was quoted as saying. "She hit me with her fist to my chest. She scraped her fingernails to my neck, and slapped my face. I was bruised on my neck. She sometimes pulled out tufts of my hair." The worker said she remained there, hoping to be paid, but never got payment.

At least 146,000 female migrant domestic workers - possibly many more - from countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Ethiopia now work in the UAE.

However, some embassies or consulates in the UAE do not have shelters or adequate staffing to deal with abused domestic workers.

In June 2014, the UAE authorities revised the standard domestic worker labour contract to require a weekly day off and 8 hours of rest in any 24-hour period. However, the contract does not address other issues such as limits on working hours and is weaker than labour law protections for other workers that are enforceable by judicial authorities.

An unpublished draft law on domestic workers has been pending since 2012, but according to media reports, its contents would still fall short of protections for other workers.

The UAE authorities have reformed some aspects of the kafala system in recent years, but not for domestic workers, it said. While the UAE authorities have prosecuted some employers for murder or extreme physical abuse, workers who seek redress must overcome a host of legal and practical obstacles, particularly in pursuing court remedies for contract breaches or less extreme abuse.###

See online : The Financial Express

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