Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Maid in Dubai

I briefly mentioned the debate surrounding the treatment of live in maids in Dubai which has been popping up in the English language press here in my last post.

http://www.7days.ae/storydetails.php?id=103559&page=localnews&title=Maids driven to seek home help

This story reveals that maids are in the unique position, along with other domestic staff, that their rights are not protected by the Ministry of Labour.  I've already mentioned the low salaries that these women are paid but the fact that they undertake the work knowing they effectively have no rights speaks volumes about the lack of prospects they have left behind in their home countries.

It's difficult for a bedwetting pinko leftie such as myself to reconcile myself to the fact that we are effectively in a rigid class system here which a lot of ex-pats willingly buy into and in some cases, seem to rather enjoy.  It started off with my inability to call these migrant workers maids at first as it made me feel like I was in some kind of costume drama.

At this flat, where there are three fully grown adults with no kids, one of whom (me) has a lot of time on her hands, we have a maid who comes in for three hours a week to clean and do the ironing.  The flatmate did (jokingly, I think) suggest that we sack the maid when I arrived as I would have plenty of time to do the housework being unemployed, but that went down like a lead balloon.

I have concluded that the longer you are here, the more you buy into the concept of having "servants" who are there to do your bidding, and do it they must to a high standard because for them what they're being paid is a lot of money even if it is peanuts to you.

There was a particularly embarrassing story of maid mistreatment here last month when a maid ran away and called a newspaper saying she had worked from 5am til 1am every day with no time off and was not allowed to leave the house.  Instead of wearing her own clothes she was made to wear a pink pyjama-style uniform. 

Her Emirati employer had the rather extraordinary attitude that letting maids out of the house only caused problems as they would "get themselves pregnant" and then "make trouble by saying it was the man of the house".
"Anyway, where would she go? She has no friends here, she said.

I say it was embarrassing due to the lack of remorse or compassion towards her employee.  There was simply no comprehension that this woman, like any other human being, would need the occasional day off or social interaction to make her life bearable.  Because she was perceived to be of lower social standing, her wellbeing and happiness simply did not factor in her employer's assessment of the situation.

Press reports here are a rather different thing to what we're used to in the UK, as there is not much clarity on defamation laws, so people who have been caught behaving badly are often given anonymity so the newspaper can avoid being sued.  This may make them more willing to say what they're really thinking, hence this woman's brazen admission of the way she treats her maid.     

Letter writers to national newspapers can also hide behind pseudonyms such as "Fat Abdul" or "Annoyed of Dubai" which they would never be permitted to use in the UK, so they often express extremely unpalatable views.  Responding to a story about a maid who was beaten by her employers, one person said: "Feel sorry for the sponsors too, we paid for our maid's visa and agency fee and she ran away" as if losing a few thousand dirhams was as bad as being subjected to regular beatings.

The maid question is an interesting one for the newly arrived ex-pat.  We won't be able to afford someone a few hours a week when we move flats let alone even think about having a live in maid.  I am not sure, were I in a position to do, so I would be that keen on having a live in maid anyway.  The idea of having a person there being paid to do my every bidding is something alien to me and I am kind of hoping that it will stay that way, however long we stay here.


  1. Darling, didn't you get the memo? The class war is over... the poor lost! Get over it and get yourself a maid - there's no shame in having help if you're paying for it - they want the money, you want the service... what's wrong with that?

  2. Alright Marie Antoinette! We probably will get someone a few hours a week when I get my arse into gear with work but I would be reluctant to get some poor soul living in the maid's room (usually a small windowless room in the house) being paid £110 a month to cook meals, clean, wash, and all the othet stuff that I am fairly capable of doing myself.

  3. Hey, I'm not suggesting a slave, but I would have no issue with employing someone on a fair wage (by the local standards), given good working conditions etc if I could afford it - whether or not I had the time or not.

    You're not looking at this the right way - think of it like some 19th Century author - employing staff to do the jobs you're fully capable of, but using the time you'd gain back to write a wonderful novel or something.

    If you can afford it, and you're giving a decent wage and fair treatment, go for it and use your time doing something nice. This is a golden opportunity, as soon as you and the Sand Warlock (or whatever you're calling him these days) move back to the UK and can never afford help, you'll kick yourself for not taking advantage of the opportunity while you can.

  4. I'm not against the few hours a week ones, it's the live in maids I am not that keen on. That's just the thing, of course I would give someone good working conditions, but there is a real problem here with people that don't. And it's not always the people you would expect that treat their staff badly, which makes me think that there is something about living the ex-pat life that makes people go a bit post-colonial.