Future of Domestic Work in the Gulf



Across the world, the governance of the domestic work sector is being revisited from the perspective of the care economy, primarily because the growing share of the world’s population aged over 65 has created a spike in the number of people in need of long-term care.  Conjointly, the world is facing an ever-expanding shortage of health care professionals (e.g., doctors, midwives, nurses). The deficit was estimated at 7.2 million health care workers in 2013 and is expected to reach 12.9 million by 2035.  

The result is that out-patient care in private homes has taken primacy over service provisioning in hospitals, especially in the case of long-term and post-operative care. Further, (care)site-shifting is leading to task-shifting, with migrant domestic workers taking on the role of unregulated nurses – administering drugs, changing gavage feeding tubes, cleaning post-operative wounds, bathing and taking the blood pressure of long-term care patients – while specialized nurses take on the role of doctors, “supervising others who give essential physical, emotional and psychological care” . 

To capture the growing complexity and multi-functionality of domestic work and the occupational niching within the sector, countries are developing competence standards and corresponding skills programmes for domestic workers. These programmes aim to provide specialized and quality services for employers, structure wages according to workers’ skill and competency levels, and recognize the skills of workers with a view to promoting their professional mobility within and outside the sector. 

Depending on the context, these programmes can be funded by governments, the private sector, employers’ associations, recruitment agencies, individual workers, and/or workers’ organizations. These programmes are more effective when linked to national qualification frameworks (or model competency standards for domestic workers) and to corresponding national wage setting categories that reflect workers’ skill and competency levels. In the Middle East, where domestic workers’ wages are negotiated bilaterally between the countries of origin and destination, on-arrival skills programmes may be an alternative to nationality-based wage differentials. 

While the GCC region remains relatively young in comparison with Europe, North America and East Asia, it is predicted that by 2050 all GCC countries will achieve sub-replacement fertility levels.   Average life expectancy in almost all the GCC countries will be 75 years in 2025 and 80 years in 2050.  The old age dependency ratio will increase in all GCC countries leading to an increased burden for young wage earners and the government, therefore putting the sustainability of the family-based care model to the test. The UAE will have the highest ageing index; it is estimated that in 2050, the UAE will have 147 elders for every 100 persons younger than 15 years old.   

More attention needs to be paid to the socio-demographic changes in the GCC and to their implications for the management of human resources. Domestic workers are an important cogwheel in the GCC demographic transition. The organization of the sector, as it progresses from housekeeping to home-paid care, must take into consideration how the long-term demand in the sector will be structured. 

MOHRE has partnered with the International Domestic Workers Federation to conduct research on the future of domestic work in the GCC with a special focus on the UAE. The objective of the proposed research is to examine the nature of the current and long-term demand in the sector with a view to guiding TSCs service design and delivery. Owing to cultural, social, demographic and economic similarities between GCC countries, the research (framework, method and findings) will add to national discussions regarding the future of domestic work in other GCC countries. 

More specifically, the research proposes to examine the following aspects of domestic work in three states; Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah, while controlling for the preferences of national employers and those of employers who are expatriates.  The analysis will build on statistical sources and interview and focus group data with employers, workers, and TSC operators/staff. 

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Project Status: Complete

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