Qatar has approved a law limiting domestic staff to a maximum of 10 hours' work a day, the first such protection for thousands of household maids, nannies and cooks in the emirate.
The "Domestic Employment Law" also orders employers to pay staff wages at the end of each month and entitles workers to at least one day off per week and an annual leave of three weeks, the Qatar News Agency reported.
They will also receive end-of-service benefits equating to a minimum of three weeks wages for each year of service when their contract ends.
The law prohibits staff being recruited from abroad who are older than 60 and younger than 18.
Hundreds of thousands of foreign workers have flocked to the gas-rich Gulf emirate in recent years, including almost 100,000 women working as house staff.
Other domestic workers covered by the new law include cleaners, gardeners and drivers.
The legislation was issued on Tuesday by Qatar's emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, QNA reported.
Although Qatar has come under severe international pressure to improve its record on the treatment of construction workers in the run-up to the 2022 World Cup, until now domestic staff have not been protected by any legislation.
Critics have long campaigned for legal protection for domestic staff, with some claiming that they are subjected to working in slave-like conditions.
These included physical and sexual abuse, no wages being paid and passports being confiscated.
In 2014 it was reported that hundreds of Filipino domestic workers had sought sanctuary at their Doha embassy complaining of harsh working conditions.
The issue of ill-treatment of domestic staff stretches across the region.
In 2015 Indonesia said it would stop sending domestic staff to 21 Middle Eastern countries in protests at the treatment of maids in those countries.
Human Rights Watch backed the introduction of the law.
"Tens of thousands of domestic workers in Qatar now have their labor rights protected in law including a limit to their working day and a weekly day of rest," Rothna Begum, women's rights researcher at HRW, told AFP.
But she added that new legislation must be rigorously imposed by the authorities.
"However, Qatar should ensure there are strong enforcement mechanisms which are key to making these rights a reality."
The legislation comes at a time when Qatar's laws remain under scrutiny from the International Labor Organization.
The U.N. body has given Qatar until November to improve its human rights record or face sanctions.
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