Domestic Workers Trapped, Exploited and Abused in the UAEOn October 8, 2019 by Raul Dinwiddie
One time, I complained to Madame. I told her that there’s no food for me. Then she told me , “You know, you’re just something I bought.” “I bought you, so don’t complain. You don’t have the right to complain because we bought you.” Her seven-year-old daughter would translate her Arabic to English for me. The girl said, “We bought you: 10,000 dirhams! [$2,700]” Tens of thousands of women every single year migrate to the United Arab Emirates. They say goodbye to their families and their very young children, and they hope that they will be securing salaries for their family’s futures. But they have no guarantee that they will end up with such salaries, or even good working conditions. After June, people don’t have any means of income besides fishing. When times are really hard, people leave the country to find work. I decided to work abroad because we had a difficult life. My children were always sick and there was never enough food. That’s why I left. Two years there and I would have earned enough to come home and start a business. But I was not lucky. We tracked down some domestic workers in the Philippines, who had returned from the UAE, to discuss what had happened to them. We found that many of them were subject to egregious level of abuses, working very very long hours. Some of them were even physically and sexually abused. My employer’s mother was outside drying dates in the sun. She yelled at me, “Come over here!” She wanted me to help her dry the dates. “I’m ironing clothes,”I responded. I told her her I would come help her as soon as I was done. “Why are you still ironing clothes” I replied that the iron might not have been hot enough. “Let me she!” she said. She grabbed the iron and pressed it against my arm. She said, “There, is it hot? Is it hot now?” I screamed in pain. The UAE facilitates and fosters abuse and exploitation of domestic workers. They are not allowed to transfer employers, even if they are being abused, or receiving far less than what they were promised. They are trapped with that single employer, and only face the option of having to return home if things go wrong. My contract stipulated that I should have eight hours of rest a day, medical assistance, and 15 days of sick leave. I didn’t get anything. We worked nonstop. We worked even when we were sick. My madam gave me my salary for the first month: 800 dirhams [$217]. She told me that everyone agrees to pay 1,000 dirhams in the contract, but no one pays that much. I left, pretended to clean their playroom and cried. I hit the floor with my hands and told myself, “Is this is? It this all?” “I suffered so much for this. Why did I take a chance on this?” I was blaming myself. These women are some of the most vulnerable workers in the country and yet incredibly, they have no protection under the labor law. The labor law in fact explicitly excludes them from it’s protections. My employer would often tell us, “We can easily have you killed any time because nobody sees you here and you’re far away from your family. We can do whatever we want with you.” Domestic workers right now, without any of these legal protections, are very vulnerable. They really need a law that will protect their labor law rights, like every other migrant worker in the country. They need a right to a day-off per week, they need the right to — limits to their working hours, and overtime compensation for when they work beyond those hours. I could no longer take what they were doing to me. I’m a human being. Some say it’s better to just accept being treated like an animal. But I said, I won’t.