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Confusion over insurance policy for Lankan maids

By Preeti Kannan / 19 August 2008

DUBAI — Even as the Sri Lankan government's landmark insurance policy aimed at protecting the rights of housemaids took effect in the UAE on Sunday, several recruitment agents approached the Sri Lankan consulate in Dubai on Monday and expressed concern over its implementation.

Consulate officials, on the other hand, have promised to look into the matter and "iron out" any issues.

Lankan authorities signed an agreement with the Oman Insurance Company to provide insurance cover to housemaids in the UAE.

Angry agents gathered on Monday morning and alleged that the Sri Lankan diplomatic missions in the UAE had not made any efforts to disseminate information among the sponsors, be they nationals or expatriates.

In a written petition to the Sri Lankan Bureau of Foreign Employment, about 15 agencies expressed fear that instead of the sponsor, they would have to shell out the Dh200 annual premium for the compulsory "life and personal accident insurance."

"If sponsors aren't informed of the new policy, then we would be compelled to pay the insurance premium. The missions must coordinate with the UAE government and other authorities concerned to raise awareness about the new policy, insisting that the costs must be borne by the local sponsor," said an agent based in Ajman.

They also wanted the insurance to cover travel costs of housemaids returning home within three months of their arrival in the UAE.

Khaleej Times had reported in July that the new cover to enhance protection and social security of the island nation's domestic sector workers overseas, would come into effect by mid-August in the UAE.

Besides other aspects, the policy will cover the cost of food, accommodation and medicare of housemaids, who took refuge at the Sri Lankan embassy. It would also cover legal expenses incurred in cases like non-payment of salary and abuse.

The agencies demanded that labour contracts, issued earlier this month, be exempted from the new policy.

"Some contracts have already been drafted, but have yet to be attested by the Sri Lankan consulate. However, since the insurance policy has already come into effect, we would like to be exempted from the insurance or at least be given a premium waiver," said an agent.

He reasoned that while drafting the contract, the agents were not aware of the new rules, and it was too late to convince the sponsor to pay up.

Since at least 20 per cent of housemaids go back within three months of being hired, due to various reasons, the agents want the insurance to cover their travel expenses, too.

The Consul-General of Sri Lanka in India, Wasantha Senanayake, said that these were "minute issues" that could be ironed out.

He stressed that the policy was for the larger benefit of its migrant workers. "Since it is a private scheme introduced by the Sri Lankan Government for its nationals, we do not have to notify any authorities. This is extra payment that has to be made while recruiting housemaids. If they (sponsors) do not want to pay the money, they do not have to hire Sri Lankans," he emphasised.

On the issue of contracts that have already been drawn up, Senanyake said, "We will discuss the matter with Oman Insurance and if it is not a huge number, we can consider giving them free insurance."

The consul-general also said the lankan authorities were open to adding more clauses in the insurance requirements, if necessary.

Number of workers increases

EIGHT months after the minimum wage policy of Dh825 was introduced, the number of domestic workers being hired in Dubai and Northern Emirates has increased. The trend is contrary to speculations that residents might be reluctant to pay the fixed wage.

Statistics with the Sri Lankan consulate in Dubai reveal that nearly 1,000 labour contracts were made each month this year, as compared to the previous 650 a month.

Sponsors say that the insurance cover would not discourage residents from hiring Sri Lankans, considering that they had to pay as little as Dh200 a year.

Chris McWilliams, a sponsor, said the move was welcome. "It does not discourage me from recruiting a Sri Lankan housemaid. I think it is only fair that a sponsor takes good care of her and the Sri Lankan Government is only trying to protect its nationals. Besides, if you look at the people sponsoring them, I think Dh200 is really nothing," said McWilliams.


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