Human Rights Watch Report on Conditions for Migrant Workers in the United Arab Emirates

Human Rights Watch Report on Conditions for Migrant Workers in the United Arab Emirates

On October 23rd, 2014, Human Rights Watch published a piece entitled I Already Bought You: Abuse and Exploitation of Female Migrant Domestic Workers in the United Arab Emirates, they document the various rights abuses against women. It is said that there are “At least 146,000 female migrant domestic workers—and possibly many more—[who] are employed in the United Arab Emirates (UAE)” (HRW, 2014). They explain that because of the UAE’s law for migrant workers, it becomes difficult to have human rights protected. Human Rights Watch (2014) explains that 

In the UAE, as elsewhere in the region, the kafala system ties migrant workers to individual employers who act as their visa sponsors, and restricts migrant workers’ abilities to change employers. The system gives employers great power over employees because it entitles them to revoke sponsorship at will. This automatically removes the right of a worker to remain in the UAE and triggers repatriation procedures.

Domestic workers are explicitly excluded from the UAE’s labor law and from the basic protections that the law and other labor policies afford to most other workers, such as limits on working hours and provision for overtime pay. Domestic workers have virtually no legal safeguards governing their employment. The UAE authorities have been considering a draft law on domestic workers for several years but they have yet to make the draft public, let alone enact it. Media reports suggest that the draft contains fewer and weaker safeguards for domestic workers than those afforded to other migrant workers under the labor law.

And while the government has improved the law a bit, they still do not protect domestic workers in the country (HRW, 2014). And thus, sadly, many workers are facing horrendous conditions, such as physical beatings by sponsors, sexual violence, as well as verbal abuse by their sponsors. Furthermore, many individuals interviewed by the Human Rights Watch stated that they were at times not paid for their work, or had to work in very difficult conditions, often with very long hours (15 to as high as 21 hours of straight work), and often without necessary breaks that an individual needs. The report also talks about other abuses such as denying migrants food, healthcare, or proper living conditions (HRW, 2014). There are also reports of forced labor taking place, and yet, the government has done little to go after those committing abuses such as forced labor and slavery, as the organization states that they are “not aware of any case in which the UAE authorities have prosecuted employers for exposing domestic workers to forced labor” (HRW, 2014). 

The findings of this report are quite troubling, and must be brought to the attention of the United Nations, and other international organizations. The United Arab Emirates government must protect the rights of migrant workers. They should not only change the law to ensure the full protection of all human rights, but they must immediately look into all cases of abuse, and carry out judicial measures to hold those responsible for human rights violations accountable. 

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