Addis Ababa banned its domestic workers from seeking work in the UAE in July last year until an agreement was reached to protect them from abusive recruiters and employers.
But the ban does not apply to those already employed, and has enabled some ruthless recruiters to further exploit them.
Typically, the recruiters will offer existing sponsors of Ethiopian domestic w
orkers up to Dh3,000 for agreeing to transfer the visa of their maid.
They then offer the maids’ services to other employers for fees of up to Dh7,500, rather than the previous standard of Dh1,500.
But none of the extra money is passed on to the maids, some of whom earn as little as Dh700 a month.
While such actions are not illegal, critics say recruiters are exploiting the demand for Ethiopian maids, who have a reputation for being diligent and reliable.
Nora Salim was offered the opportunity to hire an Ethiopian maid by a recruiter seeking Dh8,000 in office fees.
“The same maid would have cost Dh1,500 in office fees but now they cost at least Dh6,000 extra because recruitment offices are taking advantage of the ban,” Ms Salim said.
“I told the office employee that this was a rip-off. I had an Ethiopian maid before and I know the process and the costs.
“They claimed to me that the original sponsor was demanding that amount in return for giving away his maid.”
Aida Omar contacted a recruitment company to arrange the plane ticket for her maid, whose two-year contract had expired, and the company offered her Dh3,000 to transfer the visa.
“The office employee started insisting that I bring my maid to her office, and said she would finalise her residency cancellation and provide me with the necessary papers to claim my deposit from the residency department,” Ms Omar said.
For two weeks, she received calls from the recruiter pestering her to bring the maid in.
“When I stopped taking her calls, she said it to me bluntly: ‘I will pay you Dh3,000 if you give me the maid’,” Ms Omar said.
“It’s hard to believe this is legal, but even if it is, charging others four times more than what was originally paid for the maid is like theft.”
Lawyer Yousif Al Bahar said authorities should more closely monitor recruitment agencies.
“It’s not illegal to transfer the residency of maids, but charging four times the original cost is the outcome of people’s lack of information and fear of approaching authorities,” Mr Al Bahar said.
Recruitment agencies contacted all denied taking advantage of the ban.
The average monthly wage of an Ethiopian maid without experience is Dh700, while those with experience earn up to Dh900.