Sunday, February 24, 2008

A better deal for Indian maids

There's regular comment about the wages of lower-paid workers in the UAE, and the conditions in which some - especially labourers in the construction industry - are accommodated.

The wages and treatment of housemaids is also a subject of conversation and media reports. Exploitation has been all-too common so it's an area that governments have needed to be involved in. Fortunately that is happening.

The Indian Embassy in the UAE has just issued new regulations for the employment of maids from India.

With immediate effect, housemaids from India must be paid at least Dh1,100 a month plus food and accommodation plus return airfare. They must be a minimum of 30 years of age and it seems that some kind of check into the employer is carried out. The announcement from the Embassy is here.

The new wage is US$299 a month, or at today's exchange rate £152, Euro200.

When you convert it into western currencies it sounds appallingly low doesn't it.

In spite of an 80% increase, is it still exploitation?

The ongoing discussion about lower-paid workers' wages has popped up here again, on the UAE Community Blog and then on Bss & Brn in Al Ain blog.

It's a highly emotive issue, but it's also highly complex.

Just look at a couple of the economic issues - putting aside bad treatment of people, which is unacceptable for anyone under any circumstances.

We live in an economy in which the majority of people are guest workers. Many of the workers are from countries in which their remittances have a huge impact on the economy. Indian remittances last year were nearly US$30 billion. The Philippines economy received remittances of over US$14 billion last year. Remittances are some countries' largest foreign exchange earner.

The average wage in many labour supplying countries is around a dollar a day. The cost of living in many of them is low enough that a person sending back just a few dollars a month is supporting an extended family.

It's highly complex, encompassing everthing from the individual to entire economies. To relate the wages of workers from these countries to western wages & costs of living is meaningless. To say there should be a wage for the job regardless of where people come from is naive.

Compare the wages in your country with the official minimum wage rates declared by the Indian government through its Embassy in Abu Dhabi for its citizens.

For example, the lowest wage is Dh600 a month (US$163, £82, Euro109) for unskilled workers including labourer, cleaner, messenger, Grade II Waiter, cook on personal sponsorship, farm workers.

For 'Office Staff' the minimum wage is Dh1150 to Dh1200 a month (US$312, 157, Euro209). For 'Highly Skilled' people including X-ray Welder, Nurse, Accountant,a minimum wage of Dh1400 to Dh1700 a month (US$380, £191, Euro255).

In the context of India and Indians, the Indian government says those are fair minimum wages.

You can read the full list at the Embassy website.


As I said, it's complex.

8 comments:

Ravendran said...

fewer Indian maids actually from now on. I guess there will be maids coming in from Cambodia, Vietnam.

Seabee said...

I'm sure you're right - and that's yet another part of the complexity. If the wages for one nationality go up they will be replaced by a cheaper group, so instead of earning more they actually end up with no work.

Anonymous said...

To relate the wages of workers from these countries to western wages & costs of living is meaningless. To say there should be a wage for the job regardless of where people come from is naive.


Agree, except for the above part.

While theres no point comparing UAE wages with western wages, why is it that the cost of living in ones country plays such a huge role?

Someone working in the UAE with a family pays rent, school fees, fuel costs, groceries, in the UAE and is affected by the UAE's cost of living. School fees "back home" and rent costs "back home" do not matter as he/she is not paying them, at least in most cases.

Seabee said...

Anon, why is it that the cost of living in ones country plays such a huge role...because it does. Because of the complexity of the issue, as I tried to point out.

Of course everyone here should earn enough to live and pay their bills here but that's a different subject.

Where does the home country cost come in? We are a transient society of guest workers, the vast majority being here long enough to make some money and then go home.

Home country costs are the key factor in that. If we were in a country we could move permanently to, become citizens of, it would be a different scenario.

Wages are paid relative to what the person would earn 'at home'. Even though the dirham figure is very different, relatively speaking they are about equal.

Let me give an example to try to explain what I mean. I've converted the figures into dirhams - taking India for example, the Hay Group say: "The White collar average wage is Dh1,232 per month."

The average wage in the UK is about Dh14,700 a month.

I repeat, workers here plan to return to their home countries with their Gulf savings. If an Indian office worker was paid a UK average salary, s/he would earn a full year's Indian-relative salary in one month. In one year s/he would earn the equivalent of 12 years Indian-relative salary.

Two things are obvious from that. One, how many months would an Indian person work here with that kind of huge salary? There would be a constant rapid turnover of staff. Two, it's unfair, this time to the Brit who is earning relatively-speaking less than a tenth of the Indian co-worker.

That's just one of the interlinked complexities of the whole issue.

caz said...

The rate for the job is the rate for the job, no matter where you come from, or whether you are white black, blue with pink spots, or because you would not earn as much in your own country.
Pure blackmail I have always thought.

I am presuming that when a Westerner applies for a job in the
UAE, he/she is paid the rate for the job. The fact that he or she earned less in their home country is not taken into account.

A certain bright lady was offered and accepted an absolute top job, long hours, huge travelling with heavy responsibility.
The salary offer was accepted. No thought at all was given to what she might have earned less elsewhere.

That is as it should be

Too often we hear, "they are better off here, than they would be at home.

They may well be, but that is no excuse whatever for not paying the rate for the job.

Seabee said...

Caz, as I said in the original post, that's a naive proposition. It's far too simplistic because it ignores the fact of a transient workforce of guest workers who are in the country temporarily. Eighty-percent of the population here are in that category.

In this scenario there are many complex factors at play that don't apply in 'normal' societies, including the rate for the job being based on what we would earn in our own country.

Even in a those societies there isn't a rate for the job - ask all the women working in Australia who are paid less for doing the same job than their male counterparts.

I am presuming that when a Westerner applies for a job in the
UAE, he/she is paid the rate for the job. The fact that he or she earned less in their home country is not taken into account.

Wrong. Country of origin is a very important factor in deciding the wage.

A certain bright lady was offered and accepted an absolute top job, long hours, huge travelling with heavy responsibility.
The salary offer was accepted. No thought at all was given to what she might have earned less elsewhere.

Wrong again. I repeat, country of origin is a very important factor in deciding the wage.

caz said...

I see.
So, an Indian and a Westerner apply for the same job. The rate is $50 an hour. If it decided to give the job to the Indian, will he be paid less than the advertised hourly rate of $60 because he would earn less in India.
If that is the case, then it is a bloody disgrace.

Yes, I agree with your comment about women paid less than men in Australia./

Do those who come from South East Asia to live and work in Australia
paid less for the job because they might be earn less in SEA?

A complex issue my foot.

Racism its worst. "That's all you are worth because you are not white and would certainly not be paid as much in your own country."

The issue is as complex as people want to make it.If people can get away without paying the rate for the job, they will, and will have the ingredients for a sophisticated argument.

Where is the justice and social consience?

Caz.

Seabee said...

Caz, as I said originally it's a highly compex issue in spite of your belief that it's very simple. You're missing the reality of a transient society with temporary guest workers from 180 different countries, your comments apply to 'normal' societies.

"So, an Indian and a Westerner apply for the same job. The rate is $50 an hour. If it decided to give the job to the Indian, will he be paid less than the advertised hourly rate of $60 because he would earn less in India."
That isn't how it works. Jobs are not advertised at a rate. If the employer looks for an employee in India he will pay what an Indian thinks is a fair wage. If he looks for an employee in the UK he will pay what a Brit thinks is a fair wage. The two wages will be poles apart.


"Do those who come from South East Asia to live and work in Australia paid less for the job because they might be earn less in SEA?" We're not talking about Australia. Of course people in Australia are paid Australian rates, they're migrants, permanent residents who are encouraged to become Australian citizens. (Except of course the well documented exploitation of more than a few SEA immigrants in sweatshops paying way below the minimum wage!) What happens in a stable workplace such as Australia has no bearing on what happens in a temporary guest worker workplace.

"Racism its worst. "That's all you are worth because you are not white and would certainly not be paid as much in your own country." Again you're wrong. It isn't black/white racism. A white eastern European will be paid less than a white western European. A black American will be paid more than a black African. All will be paid what they percieve as a fair wage - otherwise they wouldn't take the job. Look at the first comment here from Ravendran.

"A complex issue my foot.
If people can get away without paying the rate for the job, they will"

As I said, you don't understand the issue. There is no rate for the job. There is a job and there is a whole range of wages that people will accept as fair based on where they come from.

Back to my figues - an Indian white collar worker accepting a job at double the average wage will be delighted with Dh2,500 a month. A Brit wanting the same - double his average wage - will only accept Dh30,000 a month.

Most people move to Dubai because they can earn more, save more, than they can in their own countries. They accept jobs at wages which they accept as fair. They stay for a short time and then go home with what they've saved.

Another complexity to add to the mix is how that situation is changing. Dubai, like the rest of the Gulf, is becoming less a place where people can earn and save as they once could. Moving here will soon be only a lifestyle choice, not an opportunity to make money.

It's happening already for Indians, whose economy is booming, wages are rising, cost of living is rising. Many can earn as much at home as they can here, so either wages here paid to Indians have to rise or employers have to look elsewhere for cheaper staff. Again look at the first comment here, from Ravendran. What is happening in reality is a mixture of both.

A survey just published shows that 37% of respondents are contemplating leaving the UAE to work elsewhere to improve their finances because of inflation here.