For many families in Dubai, a domestic helper, whether a nanny or a maid, is an essential part of home life. However, according to a recent KHDA report, over 90 per cent of maids in the UAE are routinely responsible for their sponsor’s children – yet a large proportion of staff are unqualified to do so. ‘In my opinion, a housemaid is someone who helps with the domestic chores around the house, whereas a nanny is a fully qualified person whose duties do not include housework but to devote time to the children of the family, assisting in their development, upbringing and education,’ says Dave Courtnell, director of Howdra, a British owned and operated family maid and maintenance business.
Employment laws and red tape
All domestic helpers must be employed with a visa, either from the family who is employing them, or through a reputable agency, which must be applied for through the Dubai Naturalisation & Residency Department (04 313 9999). Currently, the costs include a Dhs5,200 residency visa and Dhs2,000 deposit, as well as medical fees, typing and translation costs (for more information, visit www.dubai.ae). However, according to Gulf News, a draft law is looking to reduce these costs. There are strict laws in place to prevent households from hiring domestic helpers on a casual basis – with fines of up to Dhs50,000 for employing a worker that is not sponsored by you, cash in hand, or on a visit visa, while the domestic helper could face imprisonment, deportation and fines of up to Dhs100,000. There are also fines in place against employers who allow their helpers to work cash in hand or part-time for other families. ‘It is illegal to employ a neighbour’s maid or anyone else part time that doesn’t come through an agency,’ warns Dave. ‘This can lead to very heavy fines and criminal action – the authorities do carry out spot checks. Also, it is important to know who you are letting in your house – by going through the right channels you have legal rights should something go wrong.’
Finding the perfect helper
There are a number of ways to find a full time maid, whether it is through word of mouth, or placing an advert on the likes of Dubizzle or Expatwoman (in our experience, it is always best to get a personal recommendation from somebody you know). Always ask for references at the interview stage, and ensure that you find out as much about their background as possible before you commit. ‘Find out whether the person really wants to be here,’ advises Dave. ‘Are they aware of what the job entails, do they have experience, or are they willing to learn or to go on training? Are there any religious issues to take into account, and what kind of social life do they expect as part of their employment contract?’ He recommends that the job requirements should be discussed in full at the first interview, including hours of work, break allocation and the general family routine.
Agencies can take the headache out of sourcing a home help, but will naturally cost more at this initial stage. ‘An agency can take away the stress of dealing with paperwork, plus they will usually be able to offer a replacement employee should she not fit into the family,’ explains Dave. ‘A good agency will give the client the choice of interviewing more than one maid, and they should also supply training and inductions to all new staff, as well as basic medical cover, gratuity and flight home at the end of the contract.’
What are domestic helpers entitled to?
On top of accommodation and salary, if you employ a maid or nanny yourself, they are entitled to food (or a food allowance), toiletries, and overtime as per your contract. All visa costs, including medical, flights home, medical care and end of contract gratuity must be accounted for, too. Currently, the labour law for domestic workers stipulates that domestic staff can work up to eight hours per day (this can be split with breaks), six days per week, with a maximum of two hours of overtime per day.
Learning on the job
We’ve tried and tested several courses and sought the advice of the UAE’s experts to bring you the best advice training and helping your maid or nanny to be as confident and qualified with the kids as she is with the domestic chores
Emergency Paediatric Response – Back to Basics
The only UAE-run course for maids and nannies to be endorsed and formerly recognised by DOHMS, we put six ladies (of three different nationalities) through their infant CPR paces...
What is it: The three-hour Back to Basics course covers what to do in an emergency situation, should you discover an infant or child (aged 0-13) in your charge unconscious and in need of emergency treatment. It’s also been modified so that those with different levels of English can receive additional help to ensure they’ve fully understood everything being taught.
What happens: The class is led by Remus, a qualified nurse from the Philippines who is also fully UK certified as a first aid trainer. ‘All our trainers are medics as well as qualified first aid instructors,’ explains Tracy Fountain, founder of Back to Basics, who is sitting in on the session. ‘This ensures all questions can be clearly answered, leaving no room for doubt,’ she adds.
The session begins by asking the simplest of questions. ‘What’s the telephone number you need to call in the event of an emergency?’ A couple of ladies put their hands up to bravely suggest it’s 911 – and are surprised to discover they are wrong.
‘Almost nobody knows this – and that’s pretty scary,’ points out Tracy – and she’s right. None of the women, all of whom are taking care of children, know that the main emergency number is 999. But Remus soon educates them, getting them to write it down and commit it to memory. He then takes them through the details they’ll need to provide if they call the emergency services. ‘Be aware of your location and a nearby landmark so that you can communicate this clearly. Make sure you give them a landline number – or call them on a landline number – as this will also be registered to your area. Try to remain calm, and give them details of the state of the child or children you are calling about. Most importantly, don’t put the phone down – leave the line open so that if necessary, they can talk you through things, and can get to your location as quickly as possible.’
Once the basics are out of the way, it’s time to get started with the actual CPR. Remus explains the concept, the class watch a short film, and are paired off in twos to begin practical infant CPR training with a dummy baby. It’s thorough, and he makes sure every class member knows exactly how to open the airways, provide adequate rescue breaths, and perform CPR safely on an infant aged up to a year old. ‘The practical side of things is so important because of the language barrier,’ explains Tracy. ‘Plus, the more they repeat the actions, the more confident they’ll be to carry them out for real if an emergency occurs. We focus as much as we can on practical rather than theory-based teaching.’
By now, all initial nerves are forgotten, so the class are enjoying themselves and helping each other out. They go on to learn practical CPR on children aged one to 13, how to cope with infants and children who are choking, how to put a child in the recovery position, and what to do if a child is drowning – whether they’re are a non swimmer or a swimmer. ‘There are a lot of drowning incidents here – it’s amazing how many maids are left in charge of children in the swimming pool, yet can’t actually swim themselves,’ says Tracy. ‘So it’s important that they know how to get a child out of the pool without jumping in themselves – which sometimes happens and then results in two casualties.’
In the final half hour of the course Remus recaps on everything learned with a question and answer session. Everyone has to write down answers and he makes sure those who are of the same nationality sit together so that he can deal with the small groups individually – thus making sure everyone has understood.
‘If we feel someone has struggled with anything, we bring them back to class and go over it with them again,’ explains Tracy. ‘After all, there’s no point in them leaving without having understood 100 per cent of what’s been taught. They are also given a number to call should they have any questions that need answering after the class. This is not a one-off lesson – we see it as an ongoing process.’
The Emergency Paediatric Response course is just one of three sessions that have been specially adapted by Back to Basics to accommodate the requirements of nannies and home helps in the UAE. ‘We do urge people to consider the First Aid for Children and the Accident Prevention courses too, which also last approximately three hours each,’ says Tracy. ‘We divided them up like this to ensure there was adequate time in each class to carry out proper practical sessions. Otherwise we’d be trying to squeeze too much information into one class, which could result in all the information not going in. We also advise that one of the parents do a course too to help support the nanny and to lead the changes at home.’
Back to Basic courses cost Dhs1,995 (group rate in-home private group training up to six people) or Dhs360 per person (with a course book for each participant and a maximum of six to a group for Emergency Peadiatric Response). The course is available in English, Arabic and Tagalog, and instructors are from Europe, South Africa, Lebanon and the Phillipines. Course materials are also available in Singhalese. For more information contact www.backtobasicsuae.com (04 391 8373).
Essentials of Housekeeping Training – The Perfect Help
What is it: A four-hour course carried out in-house with the domestic helper, and taught by a hospitality-trained professional, to teach the basics of room ‘deep cleaning’ and kitchen hygiene.
What happens: Siddharth, who has a BA in hospitality management, comes to your house for a one-on-one training session with your domestic helper. At 9am, as good as his email, he arrives at our door. Indra, our maid is raring to go as I’ve explained to her that this is something that will help us all. As my husband and I both work full time, we very rarely have the opportunity to guide her in terms of housekeeping. We’re pretty happy with her performance anyway, but are aware that she’d like more input from us. ‘It’s important to stress that this kind of course is something positive for the maid – and not a way to criticise her performance, says Deborah, co-founder of The Perfect Help. ‘The last thing you need to do is to make someone feel as though they are not doing a good job.’
Siddarth begins with a lesson in cleaning philosophy which basically covers which chemicals and tools to use for what purposes, how to store cleaning products safely, and which items (bottles of bleach, for example) should be locked away safely from the children. This is not just about tidying up and getting things clean, it’s about deep down hygiene and making sure allergens which can trigger asthma attacks and suchlike, are kept to a minimum within the home, he explains. After that, the practical lesson begins with the master bedroom. Siddarth takes Indra through the main ‘deep cleaning’ principles, including dusting on the tops of doors, different techniques for effectively cleaning windows, how to make the bed to hotel standards (along with shaking out linen to prevent dust mite build ups) and turning the mattress. She also learns how to clean the bedroom ceiling fan – a filthy object that hasn’t been touched in years...
After that, it’s onto the bathroom, where quite apart from learning effective techniques in loo, bidet, bath, basin and cabinet cleaning, Siddarth also shows her how to fix the grouting between the tiles, along with proper cleaning of the showerheads and taps, and the correct way to fold towels.
Finally they move onto the kitchen, where Siddarth runs through the basics of fridge hygiene, checking for out of date items regularly, the importance of pulling out and cleaning behind freezers and ovens, and
how clutter on surfaces is the dust mite’s biggest friend and should be avoided where possible. Phew!
Not only that, but we are provided with an ‘after session’ report from Siddarth, that explains exactly what he’s taught – along with photos to demonstrate. We’re also given a shopping list of items that our maid needs us to provide so that she can carry out her work effectively. All in all, it’s been extremely helpful and we’re all happy with the results.
Maid’s verdict: ‘A lot of it was common sense, but you don’t always think to do it because there is so much else to get on with when you’re looking after a house. The good thing about the course is that it’s taught me how to deep clean a room properly, and that each room should be cleaned to that standard once a month. It’s also fairly easy to manage my time effectively if I work according to this principle and don’t try to get everything done in one day.’
Essentials of Laundry Training – The Perfect Help
What is it: Like the housekeeping course, Siddarth comes to your home, assesses the laundry situation, and puts together a personalized training programme based on your domestic helper’s knowledge. The session lasts four hours.
What happens: Our laundry situation has been a cause for concern for quite some time. Not only do we have two sons close in age, so all their clothes tend to get muddled up, but as we are both working full time, and we need to make sure that our wardrobes are organized, so that we’re not rushing around for clothes at the last minute. Siddarth begins the training session by checking our washing machine and teaching our maid how to read the labels so that shrinkage and colour-share can be avoided. Stain removal and getting rid of fluff or hairs on garments is also demonstrated.
After that, Siddarth cleans the actual washing machine, starting with the gummed-up powder drawer, which we’ve avoided sorting out for months (he certainly has his work cut out for him where our house is concerned!). Apparently, this procedure should be done quarterly to maintain the efficiency and hygiene of the machine – and you can buy the chemicals from the local supermarket.
Next up is the laundry folding and storing lesson. Siddarth bravely decides to re-organise my wardrobe (gulp!) to demonstrate the importance of order, and using the correct hangers. The whole process takes up a large chunk of the training, but the results are amazing. I left home with a closet resembling a garage sale stand, and arrive back to find everything neatly folded, colour coordinated and organized in terms of garment groups (shirts together, skirts together, t-shirts together). He even gives Indra a lesson in suitcase packing so she can help us prepare when we travel too.
Once all that’s finished, we’re told we need to provide our maid with a list of things to help her maintain our closets and clothes properly – poor Indra has been operating on a laundry shoe-string up until now. Plus, we get the report back afterwards, which includes pictures of the inside of our now spick and span washing machine. We’re determined not to be so sloppy again…
Maid’s verdict: ‘I’m pleased with what we achieved in the session. The wardrobe looks so much better and more organized. I’m going to make sure all the closets get the same treatment now. I do feel as though I’ve learned a lot.’
The Perfect Help courses cost Dhs600 and include a course handbook and email recap report on how the session went. They also run cookery and healthy eating courses for Arabic, French, Thai and Italian cuisines, along with super nanny sessions for nannies who are looking after children. www.theperfecthelp.com (050 624 0321).