Gulf labour ministers Tuesday agreed on minimum terms in the contracts of domestic staff to improve the widely criticised working conditions of over 2.4 million foreign maids, an official said.
The move comes as labour ministers of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), home to 23 million foreigners, mostly unskilled workers, are to meet with their Asian counterparts in Kuwait City this week to discuss the conditions of foreign labour in the oil-rich region.
The new contract entitles domestic workers to a weekly day off, annual leave and the right to live outside their employer's house, the director general of Kuwait's Public Manpower Authority, Jamal al-Dossari, told AFP.
It also limits the working day to eight hours.
The GCC, comprising Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, has repeatedly come under strong criticism by international rights groups for alleged maltreatment of foreign workers, particularly domestic helpers.
"The contract has been approved by the ministers, though some countries said they have laws that are better for workers. The ministers agreed that the contract should be the minimum granted to workers," Dossari said.
Under the contract, domestic helpers are also entitled to end of service indemnity and overtime pay for extra work for a maximum of two hours daily, in addition to banning employers from confiscating the workers' passports.
Ninety international rights and labour groups called in a joint statement Sunday for urgent action to protect migrant workers, especially maids in the Gulf.
The statement charged that millions of Asians and Africans are facing abuses including unpaid wages, confiscation of passports, physical violence and forced labour.
GCC countries have also come under fire for the "kafala" system of sponsorship which restricts most workers from moving to a new job before their contracts end unless their employers agree, trapping many workers.
Dossari said that GCC labour ministers and their counterparts from 12 Asian countries at their meeting on Wednesday-Thursday will discuss "ways to bridge the gap between the two groups and resolve problems facing workers."
India, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, which are the main sources of workers in the Gulf, are among the countries taking part.