Ethiopia has banned its citizens from applying for domestic or blue-collar jobs in the UAE until an agreement can be reached to protect their rights.
The Ethiopian consul general said the freeze was a temporary move aimed at rooting out unscrupulous recruiters and abuse.
“We have suspended labour from Ethiopia to the UAE because a number of recruitment agencies are working illegally,” said Mesganu Arga Moach. “We want an agreement with the UAE that ensures our nationals’ rights.
“We receive five to 10 complaints a day from our citizens of abuse, unpaid salaries and people being beaten. It’s bad.”
The UAE Embassy in Addis Ababa said it was aware of the suspension.
“This is temporary to regulate and safeguard people,” said Dr Yousif Eisa Hassan Alsabri, the UAE ambassador to Ethiopia.
“It is good for the UAE and for Ethiopia. We are studying the matter and will send a report to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who will decide what to do.”
The ban comes a week after Azeb Abebe, 24, an Ethiopian domestic worker, sustained burns to more than 80 per cent of her body in a kitchen gas explosion at her employer’s house in Dubai.
Masood Salem, her employer, said the agency he went through had not mentioned any need for medical insurance. “It was in our plans to get medical insurance. We thought we will do it in time,” he said.
Salem has since turned to Facebook to raise funds to pay for the woman’s treatment at Rashid Hospital, where she remains in a critical condition.
“The government suspension is to prevent such cases,” said Mr Moach. “She was brought without proper work contracts or insurance, and without following proper procedures.”
Mr Moach said the consulate planned to file a case against both the sponsor and the agency in the Dubai court. “We have a responsibility to protect the rights of our nationals,” said the consul general.
Sponsors are required by Ethiopian law to provide medical insurance and undertake to pay a minimum monthly wage of Dh660. All contracts should be sent to the labour ministry in Addis Ababa, which then provides workers with an ID card to work overseas.
The consulate has attested only about 150 domestic and migrant worker contracts this year, a fraction of the number of Ethiopians estimated to arrive in the UAE every day.
“About 250 to 300 people are coming daily to work as domestic workers, security workers,” said Mr Moach.
An estimated 100,000 Ethiopians live in the UAE but only one agency here is known to be legally recruiting Ethiopian workers.
“Our most important message is that any sponsor who wants to bring an Ethiopian housemaid will have to check with the consulate if the agency is working legally, whether they are respecting the laws of the country. It is the responsibility of the sponsor to check the background of the agency,” said Mr Moach.
He also urged existing sponsors and companies to authenticate Ethiopian employee contracts at the Dubai consulate, the only Ethiopian mission in the UAE.
This week, Mr Moach said, Ethiopian authorities will notify the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about their hopes to reach a labour agreement.
“We have excellent relations with the UAE Government but the problem is with the agencies. They do not cooperate with the consulate. So we want to put proper control from the Ethiopian side.”
He said illegal recruiters were also trafficking citizens across the Al Ain border to jobs in Oman, where Ethiopia has no diplomatic mission. It does not have any labour agreements with them either.
While ironing out the terms of a labour agreement with the UAE, Mr Moach said his government would consider increasing the minimum wage and adding a clause for compulsory annual tickets home.
“First, we have to clean things up. The majority of the agencies are not following the rules, and they should be held to account for these workers they are bring from Ethiopia.”