DUBAI // Government-backed recruitment centres for domestic workers will protect low-income labour from being exploited, legal and diplomatic professionals say.
A new service will replace private recruitment agencies that bring maids and others into the country, in an overhaul of the industry.
Only companies that meet strict criteria will be allowed to work for Tadbeer, a network of labour ministry-regulated centres that will open this autumn.
The Indian embassy in Abu Dhabi welcomed the move, saying complaints about recruitment companies were widespread. Maids and others had been victims of unscrupulous recruitment agencies based in the UAE and overseas.
Common complaints included agreeing to a salary before they left their home country only to find it was much lower when they arrived.
Domestic workers would now be regulated by the Ministry ofHuman Resources and Emiratisation, in line with the rest of the workforce.
Until now, maids had been overseen by the Ministry of Interior, meaning complaints about their treatment had to be made directly to police, which could quickly escalate disputes.
"This is a very good thing for domestic workers because they will now be under the protection of labour laws," said Dinesh Kumar, first secretary at the Indian embassy.
Barney Almazar, a legal consultant from Gulf Law in Dubai who carries out work for the Philippine embassy, said it was common for recruiters to require new expats to pay for their visas.
The practice is illegal, but many expats are unaware of labour laws, or fear losing their job if they do not pay.
The Tadbeer system would root out any attempts by recruiters to scam jobseekers, Mr Almazar said.
"The new system will be helpful in reducing the number of cases of illegal charging for visas," he said. "If the cost for a visa is US$2,000 [Dh7,344], that is a huge amount of money for a domestic worker. People sell their land to afford it.
"Even though it is already prohibited in the UAE to charge employees for the visa or deduct it from their salaries, it still happens. For an accountant or an engineer it might not be much, but for a domestic worker it is a lot."
Saqr Ghobash, Minister of Human Resources and Emiratisation, said that private companies were invited to apply to operate the centres.
"Tadbeer centres will set a new standard for the provision of services to domestic workers, enabling access to better information and training, and ensuring that working conditions and accommodations are appropriate," Mr Ghobash said.
Staff at the centres will conduct interviews with domestic workers to ensure they understand their contractual rights, are trained and have the right education.
They will also resolve disputes between workers and employees and monitor worker housing and accommodation.