Disgruntled Saudi laments domestic servants
Saudi Arabia does not have a specific set of laws designed to protect migrant domestic workers, who are not covered under the nation’s general labor laws. (AFP)
By Dr. Muhammad Al-Abbas,
First off, I apologize to the reader if I am going to talk about a topic that has been discussed so many times but no effective solutions have been made. Many families suffer from domestic labor problems, either because salaries of domestic servants are somewhat high or because most servants run away from their sponsors shortly after arriving in the Kingdom.
In the past few decades, the lifestyles of Saudi families have changed as many of the family members work or study and then join the labor market, thanks to the booming Saudi economy. Even the Saudi young men and women who have not been successful in finding jobs in the private or public sectors can start their own businesses. That is why an increasing number of Saudi families direly need domestic labor to help them with house chores and other tasks.
This need has created unprecedented demand for domestic workers. Unfortunately, the Saudi market has not been prepared well to meet and properly deal with such a huge demand. It has also not been flexible enough to come up with better replacements for workers who have deserted the market or those whose salaries have increased. To date, our labor market suffers from deep structural problems
When Saudi and Indonesian labor officials failed to reach an agreement on the hiring of domestic helpers and a moratorium was imposed on recruitment of Indonesian labor, the labor market faced problems. It was not flexible enough and as a result the wages were dramatically driven up and so were the fees for sponsorship transfers, which reached, in some cases, SR30,000. Runaway cases increased as well and more than 65,000 domestic servants deserted their sponsors and went searching for work in other places.
Of course, sponsors lost a lot of money that was estimated to be around SR1 billion. Although the problem got worse, the market regulators did not even study and analyze the problem in order to come up with the right solution. All attempts exerted on the official level are done by the recruitment committee in each Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The committee members are trying to strike a deal with each government of the labor exporting countries. It has become strictly business.
Even recruitment companies which were set up to solve this problem have realized it is more profitable for them to work with businesses than with single sponsors. In other words, these companies are focusing more on recruiting professional expatriate workers, who are needed by business sector, rather than domestic servants, who are needed by the families.
Why has our market become like this? There are several aspects of the problem that should be tackled before answering the question. First, there are no laws for sponsorship transfer. Any person can transfer the sponsorship of a maid even before she arrives in the Kingdom. Take a look at the sponsorship advertisements in social media websites. There is a black market. Some sponsors put up advertisements saying they are ready to grant a release for their maids, who are going to arrive in the Kingdom soon. This market has created a problem of bogus demand in the countries that send over their workers to the Kingdom. Anyone who can pay SR30,000 for a sponsorship transfer will be willing to pay SR25,000 to the recruitment office that took the worker.
The question that poses itself is, how is the sponsorship of a maid who has just arrived in the Kingdom transferred to another sponsor? I don’t understand this. If the maid is not suitable for work or she does not want to work, the recruitment office should provide the family with another one in three months as per the official contract.
I believe the sponsorship of a new domestic servant should be transferred only after the maid has spent five months with the first employer. The same rules should be applied if the maid wants to transfer her sponsorship for the second time. She should first complete five months in employment.
Second, the black market should be stopped and deterring penalties should be imposed on violators. More specialized companies should be set up to regularize recruitment. The absence of such companies is the reason why we have black markets and that is why maids are prone to run away from their sponsors, especially in Ramadan and around the time when schools open.
Third, most recruitment offices do not live up to their end of the agreement because there are no pertinent arbitration committees that deal with disputes arising between the offices and recruitment applicants.
I am sure solving these three problems will strengthen the Saudi market and make it open its doors for recruitment of more efficient workers.