Majority of UAE residents are open to the idea of paying their house helps end-of-term benefits such as gratuity.
In a step forward, the Government of UAE has put in place a new draft law, according to which domestic helpers will be entitled to an end-of-service gratuity. Approved by the Cabinet in January, the bill will take effect once it passes the Federal National Council and is signed into law by the President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
Even though maids in the country await more rights legally, a big section of the UAE population believe it is only fair to give them end-of-service benefits.
An 'Emirates 24|7' poll reveals that 65 per cent of the respondents believe giving the maids’ benefits like gratuity is only just. They work hard like any other employee, and so should be treated in the same manner, they opted to say.
Many in the country are already giving such benefits to maids without any legal implications in place. Discussions on popular forums show that many domestic helpers are getting their dues just like any other employee.
“Our helper left last year after having been with us for eight years and we gave her eight months' salary (one for each year),” said one resident on the website.
“My maid has been with us for just six months so there is no question of giving her anything like gratuity right now. However, I’m thinking of floating the idea to her as this will motivate her but I will tell her it all depends on how well she takes care of my two-year-old,” said Sherya Das, a working mother in the UAE.
Even though the majority believes in giving more financial rights to the maids, there is a section of people, who believe the fees in hiring a maid are already exorbitant, leaving no scope for extra expenses.
The poll run by this website shows that 26 per cent of the online respondents will not give gratuity to maids as they believe there are many added costs in hiring a domestic help. At the same time 9 per cent said they are not sure about the right approach to the subject.
Dubai maids wage doubles even as residents salaries stagnate
Despite the financial woes of many residents in Dubai, salaries of maids in the emirate have doubled.
Residents complain there have been no hikes in the past few years but the situation is very different in their homes.
The asking rates of maids these days are much higher than what is set by their respective consulates.
Recommended salary for Indian maids is Dh1,100 as advised by the Indian Embassy, while new regulations from the Philippines say the minimum salary should be Dh1,400.
As per the Sri Lankan embassy, the minimum salary for Sri Lankan maids is Dh825.
However, the reality is different, say residents.
Maids in New Dubai are far more expensive than this and nearly all of them ask for a hike every year, complain residents.
“I have more than doubled my maid’s salary in the last four years. While downturn has seen us cut back costs on a lot of things, this is one cost that has escalated year-on-year,” CS, an Indian resident living in the popular The Springs area, told 'Emirates 24|7'.
“The average cost of a maid in my household per annum is around Dh30,000. This includes salary, visa fee, medical costs, food, toiletries and airfare to home country,” she added.
Besides this, getting a maid from an agency adds to the overall burden. “The costs involved in hiring a new maid are exorbitant. The agency fee or the cost of finding a new maid, the cost of bringing her here, and to top it all, the fee we have to pay to the government, make it a huge burden.
“In the case of an existing maid, the government and medical fees coupled with an increase in salary to retain the maid per annum are huge. So, all this takes a toll on the family income that has not seen any increase since  recession,” she said.
“I got a maid from Sri Lanka in 2009 for Dh700. Since then I’ve never got a pay hike and lost my job once. I was lucky enough that I found another one in three months’ time. I’ve changed my child’s school so that I save on the fee but my maid’s salary has gone up to Dh1,400, exactly a 100 per cent jump,” said another resident.
Popular forums are full of residents complaining that they don’t know how much of a hike would be termed fair enough.
Many believe that the problem is more acute where both the spouses work and have a child at home. Residents also claim that an increase in salary does not result into better work.
“High salary does not always equate to better performance. I have learned the hard way with this one. I believe it's better to pay a housemaid at a fair/reasonable monthly salary ranging between Dh1,500-1,800 a month based on experience.
“Obviously, one has to pay more if they have worked for you longer, have many children, larger houses, if the maids drive, etc. If they work hard, put in extra hours and babysit, then pay them a little bonus each month.
“I do this with my maid and she is so thrilled. I reward her hard work when I can. In other words, compensate extra work and initiative in that month. This prevents them from getting too comfortable in a base salary and gives them a reason to work hard,” writes a resident on the forum.
Another point of contention is that Western expats in the city pay their maids a lot more than other expats, which sets the market trend.
“Please bear in mind that Dh2,000 or even Dh1,500 is not the market rate. [It is much less]. These are salaries paid mostly by Western expats and the majority of the UAE population is not Western expats,” companied a pink-bunny on the forum.
“I pay significantly - more than Dh2,000. However, at the time of renewing the contract she told me about her friends who earn Dh4,000. I made it very clear that I was not interested in what her friends earned.
“I did not think it was anyone else's business what she earned and that was between her and me. I don’t think she should be going round discussing it. She knew and I knew that she was earning well over market rate. If she wasn't satisfied and wanted to look for other work I would be disappointed but would support her. The issue has never been raised again,” wrote another resident on the site.
Full-time maids almost unaffordable: residents
Dubai residents are feeling the pinch when it comes to hiring full-time househelps. Majority of residents claim that the cost of recruiting domestic help continues to increase while their income has not increased proportionately in the recent past.
An irked resident said: "The maid agencies seem to be increasing their placement charges each year. The money they take from us as salary for the maid is also increasing. The sad part is that they don’t even pay the maids half of what they take from us.”
Even the embassies and consulates of different countries that are main providers of domestic help in the UAE increase the costs.
Most recently, the embassy of Nepal have made a security deposit of Dh5,000 mandatory. “I’m in the process of getting a maid from Nepal. I’ve booked her tickets and now this new rule about the security deposit has come into effect,” complained a resident living in The Springs area of Dubai.
“.. After we check your documents, we ask you to submit these documents along with refundable Dh5,000 as security deposit (for the new domestic workers only) and Dh300 as service charge (non-refundable),” read the website of the Embassy of Nepal in the UAE.
Al Ahliya agency gets maids from countries such as the Philippine and Indonesia. “We charge Dh8,150 for getting a maid from the Philippines and Dh9,250 from Indonesia. This is just to process the documents and includes one way air fare to the UAE. It excludes all kinds of visa charges, which is to be paid by the sponsor. The salary for Filipinos range from Dh1,100-Dh1,000 and Dh800-Dh700 for Indonesians,” an executive at the agency told 'Emirates24|7'.
Another agency UIT providing Filipino maids charge Dh2,700 per month for a two-year contract. Their office charges are Dh3,000 with an additional security deposit of Dh5,000. The agency provides one-time replacement. The maid remains on the visa of the company, an executive at the agency said.
“They have changed their charges. I took a maid from them in 2007. The office commission was Dh2,000 and the monthly charges were less,” said Anita, an Indian mother, who’d hired from the same agency. Even the hourly services of the agencies seem to be getting more expensive each year. Al Deyar maid service charges Dh70 per hour for a two maid team.
Getting maids by word-of-mouth is a much better option, say residents. In this case one can save on agency commission and other charges, say families who have got their help from other sources like the classifieds.
“I think the costs have stayed pretty much the same with the very expensive fees for the annual visa renewal, and then the monthly salary is up to each employer. I think the relationship between a maid and her employer should be looked at as business relationship: the employer covers medical, annual flight home, holidays off, etc. and an annual leave of one month. I treat my maid like I want to be treated by my boss,” said Anja Schwerin, a German national living in Dubai.
The minimum salaries set by the embassies are not a norm now. Most maids in New Dubai get more than what is set by the embassies.
“Around Dh2,000 per month seems to be the average and you should also include some allowances for food, toiletries, phone credit etc.,” read a post on a forum. “I increased my maid’s salary about three months back and she’s already asking me for another hike,” said an Indian mother from Emirates Living. “I get to hear all kinds of stories from my maid. She tells me that her friends even get money for weekly manicure and pedicure and entertainment allowance each Friday,” said another resident from the same area. “Her demands are up when nothing has gone up for me in the past three years,” she added.
Gaurangi Pradhan, a mother-of-two, said: “I definitely feel that the cost of hiring a maid has gone up. Not only on the salary front but also on the countless charges that you have to pay right from the stage of typing for the employment visa up until when the visa is stamped on her passport. With regards to the salary of the maid it depends on demand and supply. You might think that people are leaving the UAE because of the slowdown, and so demand for maids have reduced, but in reality the number of advertisements for ‘housemaid wanted’ and the desperation to get a good and trusted one has only gone up. Also, with the different embassies implementing strict rules on immigration and minimum-salary requirements it has become increasingly difficult to source them from legal channels. With regards to the charges that the UAE immigration requires us to pay it is definitely not justified."
“I feel that the housemaid category is the most pampered among all the other unskilled labourer categories. In most cases they have more than comfortable accommodation, home-cooked food, no transportation costs, comfortable working conditions and timely salary etc. Considering the above, I feel that the first thing the individual embassies should do is cut all the bureaucratic procedures and unnecessary charges for getting them here. Also, the UAE immigration should get away with the various charges at different stages - applying for visa, depositing visa, stamping visa, medical test, charges for refund of deposit etc. Salary negotiations between the employer and the maid should be left between the parties and should not be dictated by the embassies. The recruitment agencies are often the biggest culprits as they charge sourcing fees from us as well as they take money from the maids. The maximum that the recruitment agencies should charge is one month salary and that too after the employer stamps the visa on the maid’s passport,” she added.