One thing I’ll never take for granted is how my nannies/housemaids help us on a daily basis, and the significant difference they make in our everyday lives.
Our nannies help us achieve our dreams and help us lead better, more comfortable lives.
Affordable childcare and having someone who can help out around the house is quite common in the UAE and the region. However, treating these helpers well and with dignity is unfortunately not.
Being a family of four, with three-year-old twins, we actually have two nannies who are not only a significant part of our household, they are part of the family. I’m actually in awe of everything they do; their patience, resilience, and the amount of love they hold in their hearts. Yet, unfortunately, it seems many in their position are still mistreated, abused and looked down upon. It’s time we fought this type of abuse and consign modern day slavery to history.
Agnes (name changed for privacy) has now been with us for over a year. She has two young daughters back in Kenya. When she first joined us, she was suffering from depression due to emotional and mental abuse she endured with a previous family.
Agnes has experienced so much unthinkable trauma that some of her more obvious symptoms included: intense anxiety, had a somber demeanor and rarely smiled – overall she was disconnected and tense. Some of the abuse she endured included her being dehumanised, belittled, disrespected and being forced to overwork. She was only allowed to eat family leftovers (off their plates) since she was not allowed to cook her own meals. Frequently, she was sleep-deprived as she tended to a newborn baby throughout the night and was expected to start chores at 6am. She was also regularly shouted at and not given any privacy, and had no time off.
We were shocked, and vowed to help her.
Through an online Abu Dhabi Mum’s group, I was able to connect with a charitable mental health professional who helped Agnes address her negative experience. Even for a nominal session fee, the benefit was incredible. And with talk therapy, she has totally transformed.
The UAE has recently announced the introduction of new regulations to protect workers such as Agnes, and a few key words appear regularly throughout the legislation, like dignity and decency. These are just basic human rights, ones which we perhaps can be guilty of taking for granted for ourselves but forget that they must apply equally to those who are not-so protected. Which is why the UAE Domestic Labour Law “establishes the principle of informed consent, ensuring that workers are aware of the terms of the contract, nature of work, the workplace, the remuneration and the period of daily and weekly rest”.
The draft Domestic Labour Law prohibits the employment of anyone under 18, discrimination on the basis of race, colour, gender, religion and political opinion, sexual harassment — whether verbal or physical — forced labour or trafficking, exposure to physical harm, and any assignment of tasks that are not covered under the contract.
This is a massive step forward and a worthy reflection of the UAE government’s commitment to its policy of pursuing true equality, zero discrimination, and tolerance for all.
What’s more, the law also gives details of workers’ entitlements, which include full payment of wages within 10 days from the day they are due, at least one day of paid rest per week, 12 hours of rest per day, including 8 hours’ consecutive rest, 30 days paid vacation per year, medical insurance provided by the employer, up to 30 days of medical leave per year, a round trip ticket to their home nation every 2 years, decent accommodation, decent meals at the employer’s expense, suitable work attire, and the right to retain possession of their personal identification papers such as passports, IDs, etc.
But perhaps the most important elements of the changes to the law are the ones that enshrine the rights of domestic workers to dignity, decency and safety by giving them avenues of recourse should they need them, without fear and without prejudice.
Workers can refer any dispute or complaint to the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation. The ministry act as an arbitrator and attempt to resolve disputes amicably within a period of two weeks, but if there is no acceptable resolution within the period, then the matter will be referred to a court, where “cases filed by workers are exempt from court fees at all stages of litigation and must be heard in a speedy and prompt manner”.
As many people know, where the UAE leads, others will follow, and by making laws that guarantee the rights of all to protection from physical and emotional trauma, the nation is securing a more stable, more tolerant and, dare I say, happier future for the region.
With both employers and employees knowing that these laws are being put in place for the betterment of our society, they cement a mutually respectful and beneficial relationship. The fact that our family is fortunate enough to be able to have help from two wonderful and attentive carers who take their responsibilities seriously and give so much of themselves certainly contributes to my family’s happiness.
Surrounded by so much love and affection, we are content in the knowledge that our twins are growing up in a wonderful environment that will reflect fantastically well on everyone who has, or will have, contributed to their well-being by being part of our family.
So let’s appreciate the unsung heroes of our families – three cheers for the super-nannies of the UAE!
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