DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates, criticized globally for its treatment of migrant workers, issued a law yesterday to combat abuse of domestic staff, state news agency WAM said. It includes prohibitions on sexual harassment, forced labor, and the employment of domestic workers under 18.

It also stipulates that workers are entitled to one paid day off each week, 30 days of paid vacation per year and up to 30 days of sick leave. President Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan approved the law, which was praised by human rights organizations when its draft was passed by the country's legislative body in May. The UAE relies heavily on migrant labor with an estimated 8 million workers making up more than 80 percent of its population, according to the International Labor Organization.

Many domestic workers come from southeast Asia. The Gulf Arab state has in the past been sharply criticized by groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch for allowing domestic staff to endure long hours, unpaid wages and abuse. The new law covers 19 service work occupations, including guards, parking valet workers, gardeners, domestic workers, cooks, and nannies, as well as private trainers, nurses, and drivers.

It is set to take effect two months after its publication in the official gazette. While welcoming the legal change, rights organizations have voiced concerns about its enforcement and implementation-like how labor inspections will be conducted. Another area of concern is the 'kafala' or sponsorship system, which forces foreign workers to seek their employer's consent to change jobs or leave the country.- Reuters