With translation by Riham Sheble
After more than a year of debate, the GCC is backing away from introducing a common contract for domestic workers – a legal mechanism that many had hoped would curb the exploitation of women working as maids, nannies and cooks in homes across the Gulf.
Instead, Qatar and its neighbors appear to be refocusing on individual reforms in their own countries, rather than adopting a region-wide approach.
Qatar previously mulled introducing an extensive new law regulating domestic workers in 2011, but apparently postponed it when other countries raised the idea of a regional contract.
After appearing to reach an agreement on a long-debated common contract for domestic workers in November, representatives from Gulf labor ministries backtracked several days later and said they don’t actually have the authority to introduce binding changes, according to various media reports.
The lack of progress has caused dismay among some advocacy organizations, including Migrant-Rights.org, which recently issued a statement criticizing the GCC for falling short on its own promises.
The group, like many other human rights organizations, says legal reforms are needed to better protect domestic workers working in the Gulf from abuse.
Amnesty International estimated there are some 84,000 women working in domestic service jobs in Qatar.
Domestic workers such as maids, gardeners and cooks are not protected by Qatar’s labor laws, and the private nature of their work makes it difficult for authorities to investigate allegations of maltreatment.
Rights groups say this has led to exploitation of some women in Qatar, who have been subject to excessive working hours, late and unpaid wages, restrictions on movement and sexual assaults.
Additionally, a domestic servant fleeing an abusive employer could be charged with absconding and be deported. Meanwhile, any woman who is sexually assaulted could be charged with “illicit relations” if she is not married to the perpetrator.
Amnesty has said the most common complaint among domestic workers is receiving a substitute contract upon arriving in Qatar containing a lower salary and poorer working conditions than what was promised in their home country.
A standardized contract, it was hoped, would address this problem along with improving the working hours and conditions for domestic workers.
In late November, representatives from labor and social affairs ministries from across the Gulf met in Kuwait to discuss draft regulations covering the employment of maids, nannies and other domestic workers.
Stipulations included a weekly day off, the right to live outside the employer’s home, a six-hour working day with paid overtime and the right to travel at any time.
Additionally, employers would be banned from withholding the passports of employees and would have been required to provide domestic workers with air tickets home at the end of their contract, Jamal Al-Dosari, Kuwait’s director general of the public authority for workforce, said at the time.
He added that the common contract would take effect once it was approved by the GCC labor ministers. Several days later, however, Al-Dosari was quoted as saying that no agreement had been reached by the ministers and appeared to shoot down the very concept of a common contract.
The authorities responsible for foreign workers issues vary from country to country, meaning that the labor ministers in the Gulf don’t always have the authority to introduce changes to regulations surrounding domestic workers, Al-Dosari said.
In Kuwait, for example, it is up to the Ministry of Interior to approve and authorize the contracts of domestic workers, according to a report in Kuwait-based Alrai newspaper.
It added that the nation’s MOI had not been consulted on the agreement, which was first proposed more than a year ago.
“The confusion is neither incidental nor uncommon,” Migrant Watch said. “Since the draft contract first emerged in early 2013, GCC states have eschewed transparency and avoided accountability through purposefully ambiguous rhetoric.”
There are signs that the concept of a common contract for domestic workers in the Gulf may never come to fruition. Al-Dosari was quoted as saying that the contract would be used as a “reference” by GCC members.
That’s similar to comments made by Aqeel Ahmed Al-Jassim, the GCC’s labor and social affairs ministers’ council executive bureau director general.
Migrant-Rights.org said he told the advocacy organization in mid-2014 that the contract would not be a binding law, but rather a guideline.
The group argued that this means individual countries can select or ignore various provisions within the model contract as they see fit – something that doesn’t leave the organization with much optimism.
“Each year, GCC states recycle the same promises for domestic worker reform, and each year the changes actually implemented are marginal at best,” the advocacy organization said.
I do not understand the need to have pushed for a common contract. Each GCC member is a sovereign nation that should create its own legislation. This comes across as an excuse to ‘talk-the-good-talk’ and appear as if something proactive is being done, while the reality is more along the lines of maintaining the status quo for as long as possible. I would be inclined to say more, however, I feel self censorship would be the prudent path…
Words have been proved to be meaningless again without intent and follow through. Wonder if we will get similar updates to the Kafala changes that were to be in effect before 2015?
“they don’t actually have the authority to introduce binding changes”
So who does have the authority ?
Seems the same path of the Kafala change that was promised by end year , yet again alot has been promised but it seems GCC can never ever develop without the need of modern slavery and cheap labor !!!
truth is authorities don’t like to change any rule because majority of company owners these few people,,do you think they want to change any rule against themselves,,,,no never,,, same to domestic workers, check how many maids working in side these ministers house and are they give these kind of freedom to their own maids drivers or cook.truth is working with this vip person more difficult than other locals..so will they agree to change the rules???
What exactly does Qatar fear about giving Domestic workers the same protection as everyone else? Would the legislators be happy to accept such conditions themselves, or for members of their families? One would have thought that if you employ someone in your private dwelling, working closely with members of your family you would want them to be happy, feel valued and encouraged to do a good job. Salaries should be part of an approved contract as should the rest of the persons employment conditions. One is left with the distasteful impression that by not treating domestic workers in a humane way, that they are not viewed as human, just conveniences. Please prove me wrong
Domestics have the same status as all other expats – they are an expendable commodity. As for humane treatment, the Kafala was not conceived with humanity in mind.
Not really. Domestic workers have less rights (under law) than other expat workers. In fact, domestic workers aren’t even covered under the Labor Law at all.
There are no limits to the number of hours per day to be worked by domestic staff.
There is no legal entitlement for them to ever be given a day off.
They are unable to lodge any form of complain with the Ministry of Labor.
BAM!!!! Back to Square 1
“upon arriving in Qatar containing a lower salary and poorer working conditions than what was promised in their home country.”
I never sent a contract abroad… Who promised them a salary and working conditions?
Your agents which you contract to hire your staffs, the responsibility falls on you to hold them accountable in acting professionally when sourcing your staffs. But then again what do you expect from people who refrain from stating the basic pay of employees just to make their pockets fat, there is karma and the law of economics it can not be bribed or convinced, when its auditors visit they will be very scrupulous be careful while enjoying from someone else’s hard labour.
If avoiding responsibility were an Olympic sport …..
“I never sent a contract abroad… Who promised them a salary and working conditions?”
Interesting! And this honestly not meant nastily but..
I can’t imagine anyone would choose to leave their country without knowledge of the salary and working conditions expected…
Who provides this info to the people you employ?
Probably those you have hired to recruit in your name and be your public face.
Osama, most of your posts are very thoughtful….but you missed the boat on this one. Turbohampster said it all.
Thank you for illustrating the problem. Anyone you recruit abroad receives some type of job offer (which is, or should be, a legally binding contract) before boarding the plane to Qatar, right?
So by shrugging your shoulders and disclaiming responsibility for the words of someone (maybe a recruitment agent) who makes promises on your behalf, then you are the source of the problem.
We all know that there are unscrupulous recruiters out there, but it is their client’s responsibility in Qatar to make them deal honestly with recruits. It’s not that difficult.
Great replies, so many assumptions…
“Any woman who is sexually assaulted could be charged with “illicit relations” if she is not married to the perpetrator”…..? So she has to be damaged twice??? If only the world was ruled by women…..
They talk about making them work 6 hours, when many of them work most of the day and night. The standard hours we work (internationally) is 8 hours, they should work 8 hours too. End of story. There is not a lot to understand in this issue.
Treat the others like you’re expecting to be treated!
This is my surprised face….. :—-/
Come on the GCC can’t even decide on hummus or mutabel at a meeting, so for them to agree on anything meaningful is just laughable. Why don’t we just ignore any statements from the GCC and just get on with our lives. It would save a lot of time.
There is some wisdom in your words, but what are we to do in the meantime? You suggest getting on with our lives, but how one can when we encounter so much human suffering throughour everyday observations.
This is not an attack at you in any way, just a general question for discussion…
I like you posts- they encourage a conversation, which is so important!
Qatar is like an alcoholic, until they admit they have a problem they will not change.
We cannot change their behaviour and one day the money will run out and they will have to change.
Thank you for your reply. Again, I accept your view, but through many negative personal experiences, I came to believe in intention, which means that one can take a positive a action in a direction that one considers to be a positive one, whithout a seeking the guaranteed outcome 😉 From my Politics studies at Uni many years ago, I accepted a thought that the positive social change (however slow and uncertain) is more likely to come out prosperois econonomic environment rather than a difficult one. I originally come from Russia, so I am wary of revolutionary changes resuilted from extreme economic circumstances;-)
I think most of our problems lies in tradition/culture more than anything
I agree. However to hide behind the “this is our culture” excuse doesn’t wash anymore. Cultures change, it’s called progress. The traditional mode of transport here was camels – they are no longer used. Traditionally, women here were not allowed to vote or go to school or work, yet they do now. To say “it’s our culture and we don’t have to change” (And I’m not saying that you in particular are saying this) means that the culture will become stagnant and eventually become irrelevant in a modern world. A changing culture doesn’t mean you lose anything, it simply means that your culture is being enriched by modern ideas and the acceptance of modern norms of human rights while maintaining the good parts such as kindness and hospitality. Modern Qatar has it within its grasp to say about salvary “No, we don’t do this anymore, it is no longer acceptable in a modern world.” I hope they do this soon.
Yup, That’s what i meant, But i think personally we are progressing but not in the fast pace i’d like us too, There are just so much social norms that need to be upheld that i think it really slows down progress with anything, It’s kind of sad.
I really understand how you feel about this and agree that there has been progress (I’ve been here over a span of 9 years) The amount of progress in a short amount of time that your leaders are expecting from their people is likely unprecedented from a global standpoint. Changing a landscape, building roads, buildings etc is easy and relatively quick. Changing the mindset of a people who have been (relatively) isolated for so long is a much harder task.
It’s hard and not also is it hard but it’s also not being done, No one wants too, I don’t blame them because they want to preserve their traditions and religious views and culture and that’s good no matter how you look at it, We can keep being the same and still be progressive without being westernized ( if we aren’t already )
Traditions and religious views can be deadly. Remember when the Spanish came to Mexico (then the Aztec Empire), and the religious views told the Aztecs that the arriving Spanish conquistadors were the returning gods (because they came from the east in shiny armor). And all the Spanish did was conquering and destroying the Aztec Empire. Fatal error, I would say.
Yes I’m sure the Qatari traditions are pretty deadly
How very sad, yet again. What is really so difficult about accepting a notion of treating all human beings as human beings that are in no way different from oneself? Those who think there is a difference – please enligten me on what it is. This might sound simplistic, but, I think, it is vital to come down to this fundamental level in this debate.
One can only try to encourage ‘migrant workers from the West’ to lead by example and treat their housekeepers and nannies (I find the term ‘maid’ distasteful, and this terminology, I feel, greatly contributes to the problem) fairly, as legitimate employees. I am sure it is the case most of the time, but some of the posts I came accross on forums are quite unbelievable.
May be it will help if all residents of Qatar regardless of origin ask themselves a simple quiestion: What makes me think that I am in any way more special than another human who was born to human parents on planet Earth, or than any living being in general.
Perhaps, another good question will be: What is missing in my life and my sence of myself that makes me want to feel superior to other living beings?
…………………“Each year, GCC states recycle the same promises for domestic worker reform, and each year the changes actually implemented are marginal at best and this in just a few words sums it all up just like the other changes which people were expecting to be done all this years but never seem to be done. Looks like some countries want to be stuck in the past rather then move forward with the rest of the world
What a joke. You have to collectively have skin thicker than an elephant to come out with that kind of an announcement. Do they expect that anyone would believe that at some point in the conference someone stuck their hand up and suggested that the attending ministers had no power to enact new universal laws? Of course not. There was nothing to stop the GCC Labor Ministers agreeing a unified code of treatment of domestic workers that could have then been taken back for approval and translated into laws and standard contracts for each individual country.
But what is the point of having a unified contract in the first place? I mean, what is the advantage? And is this a popular demand? Or a demand coming from maids themselves?
This is all a ridiculous show just made by GCC governments to drag their feets when it comes to implementing any law related to human rights, justice and accountability. They can easily agree though on anything related to internal security, as that is the most important thing for them 🙂
The slavers keep slaving.
how about implementing the changes on trial basis?
I bet the results will be promising and convincing…
sorry, I got to re fill my pop corn and soda… this is more interesting than ( the bold and the beautiful )
“Gulf countries yet again abandon idea of abolishing slavery”
They spent so much time and effort discussing ways to stop the abuse and ill treatment of this workers and now by going back on their commitments, it looks like the authorities themselves are part of the problem in allowing this abuses to continue and go on or perhaps this whole drama was a eye wash
let i’ll be .forget evrything……whatever at least ..now wake up..” Everyone wants one answer……When the labour law will change………any news…
just fix date ..not always ..we r tired of playing ..nxt mnth 2015..then it was national day..now dnt knw