GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Between regular and irregular employment: the case of ‘freelance’ domestic workers in the UAE
Paper Proposal Text :
This paper is based on empirical research carried out in Dubai, Qatar and Oman in 2014. It deals with legal frameworks, policies and practices of domestic workers in the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), with a focus on Dubai. The paper brings together the perspectives of various actors, including domestic workers, employers, agencies, and embassies. Since the domestic sector is hardly controlled, some people – employers and domestics – do engage in unauthorized work arrangements which they consider beneficial to both parties.

In the presentation we will focus on the case of ‘freelance’ maids. In the sponsorship system, there is no provision for informal work arrangements; that is, working for someone else than the sponsor is technically illegal. If caught, both the maid and the employer were to be fined. However, as we found out, some people prefer to work as free-lance housemaids for several families of different nationalities, earning a salary that is considerably higher than in formal employment (irrespective of being employed by an individual or a company). Others are forced to take up irregular employment due to structural reasons, such as overstay. Many observers estimate that there is a considerable number of migrants who live and work in such unauthorized arrangements. These migrants’ stay does not fully comply with the regulations of the kafala/sponsorship system, as they do not work for their sponsor. At the same time, some may be in a regular situation in regard to residency, but not employment, as it is possible – though not legal – to buy a residence permit on the black market.

On the one hand, the selling of residence permits to individuals involved in the informal economy (such as freelance maids) may be seen as a way of capitalizing on the vulnerability of migrant workers. On the other, it can also be a way to circumvent the narrow limitations of the sponsorship system and may open up opportunities that seem more promising to people who otherwise have no valid alternatives.