Browsing 'Maids' News

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While many Qatar residents enjoy reduced working hours during Ramadan, one segment of the population often sees its load increase exponentially – domestic workers.

In the Gulf, this is often one of the busiest times of the year for migrants working as cooks, cleaners and nannies.

For some, it can also be an emotionally stressful period because they are isolated from their families, a local migrant rights group has said.

A new campaign by Migrant-Rights.org to promote fair employment conditions for migrant domestic workers in the region includes posters created by VCU-Qatar students.

Migrant-Rights.org

A new campaign by Migrant-Rights.org to promote fair employment conditions for migrant domestic workers in the region includes posters created by VCU-Qatar students.

To raise awareness, Migrant-Rights.org is launching a campaign encouraging residents in Qatar and across the region to give domestic workers adequate time off during this month.

“Very often, I don’t think employers of domestic workers intend to treat them badly, but get caught up in their own schedules, are very busy and aren’t aware,” Vani Saraswathi, an advisor with Migrant-Rights.org, told Doha News.

She said she hopes that the new campaign will inspire more families to grant their house helpers adequate leisure time, include them in social activities and allow them to speak with family members in their home countries.

Other organizations are also working to draw attention to the issue.

In a recent op-ed published in the Huffington Post, Human Rights Watch researcher Rothna Begum described the daily schedule of some housekeepers in the Gulf:

“Many domestic workers in the Middle East are expected to help host large iftar meals to break fasts. They work during the night when families can eat, and during the day to clean and take care of children … One 42-year-old Filipina domestic worker in the United Arab Emirates told me, ‘During Ramadan I would go to sleep at 3am and would wake up (to work) at 5:30 am.’”

Begum added that Gulf-based embassies of labor-sending countries often report high numbers of women fleeing their employers especially during the Ramadan season.

Not enough rest

Locally, a spokesperson for the Philippines embassy in Qatar told Doha News that the diplomatic mission has not seen a spike in complaints from its citizens working in the Gulf state during Ramadan.

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However, the head of Qatar’s Search and Follow-up Department at the Ministry of Interior has previously said that his officers deal with more domestic workers during this time of year.

“Yes, many maids tend to run away from their employers during Ramadan because of heavy workload. They don’t get enough rest,” Brig. Nasser Al Sayed said in 2012.

Even outside of the fasting month, domestic workers in Qatar are estimated to work more hours a week than those in any other job in the country.

Maids, nannies, cooks, cleaners and other house helpers are not covered under Qatar’s labor law, which leaves them particularly vulnerable to abuse at the hands of their employers, Amnesty International said in a 2014 report.

It also means they have limited legal recourse in such cases.

Bruises on the victim.

Chantelle D'mello

Bruises on the victim.

Earlier this year, a badly beaten Indonesian women was held in Qatar’s Search and Follow-up detention center – which is typically used to hold expats awaiting deportation – after being released from hospital. She was eventually able to return home.

Saraswathi said it is rare that such cases are publicized in Qatar, arguing that there is generally less media coverage of domestic worker issues here than in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain or Kuwait.

As part of her organization’s Ramadan campaign, Saraswathi and her colleagues are speaking to newspaper columnists across the GCC and encouraging them to write about the subject. The hope is that such coverage would prompt more employers to think more carefully about how they treat their employees.

Saraswathi also argued that more nuance is needed on the subject, saying that discussions are often highly polarized and either revolve around employers being classified as horribly abusive or as housekeepers being seen as untrustworthy.

Unmet expectations

Outside of the Ramadan project, her organization is undertaking a wider campaign that involves speaking with employers in informal, off-the-record group conversations.

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One of their early conclusions is that there is a need to change recruitment practices to reduce the “huge gap” in expectations on the part of both employers and domestic workers.

For example, some recruitment centers promise families employees with specific skills, such as first aid, cooking and the ability to speak English fluently.

In practice, however, the women “are not being trained for what the employer is asking for,” Saraswathi says.

On the other side, the women who sign up to work in the Gulf are often promised shorter work hours, higher pay, more personal mobility and even a completely different job than what actually awaits them, she added.

“(Some women) come to Gulf thinking that she’s just going to clean a house. Then she arrives and is expected to take care of children, cook, etc. Some of them just don’t have the skills, or are not interested,” Saraswathi said.

Conflict can arise when both employers and their employees are let down, she added.

“There is a real need to change the recruitment practices and orientation in the countries of origin.”

Thoughts?

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To protect “human values and the dignity of the nation,” the Indonesian government has announced that it will ban its nationals from working as domestic help in Qatar and 20 other countries in the Middle East.

Speaking on Monday, the country’s Minister of Manpower and Transmigration Muhammad Hanif Dhakiri cited the execution of two of its nationals in Saudi Arabia last month as one of the reasons for the new restrictions.

“The situation concerning our migrant workers, who were working as domestic helpers, has led to many problems such as those related to labor norms and human rights violation.

According to the law, the government has the right to stop the placement of migrant workers in particular countries if it is believed that their employment will degrade human values and the dignity of the nation,” Dhakiri is quoted by Indonesian state news agency Antara News as saying.

The ban is expected to come into effect in three months’ time, and is being imposed on any new workers applying for employment overseas. Indonesians already working abroad would not be affected.

The 21 countries covered by the ban are: Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania, Egypt, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Qatar, South Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen and Jordan.

The minister said that “the hard policy” was being implemented in countries where the rights of employers outweigh labor policies and protections for the domestic worker.

“This culture often leads to migrant workers becoming highly dependent on their employers. It also weakens their position, their working condition and lives,” he added.

Permanent ban

The new ban appears to make permanent a moratorium that already existed on Indonesian women working in a number of states in the region. It was introduced in Saudi Arabia in June 2011, after an Indonesian national was beheaded there without informing Jakarta. The woman had admitted to killing her employer.

The temporary ban was also later extended to other countries including the UAE, Syria, Kuwait and Jordan.

In 2013, Indonesia also temporarily banned its citizens from working in Qatar as domestic helpers, saying it could not afford to assist the three to five women who were seeking shelter at the embassy daily who were fleeing abusive work environments.

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A number of Gulf countries, including Qatar, have a sponsorship system in place that prevents an employee from leaving the country without their sponsor’s approval.

Almost a year ago, Qatar announced it would reform its kafala system, but the proposed changes stopped short of eradicating the exit permit requirement.

Earlier this week, the country’s Labor Minister said he “hoped” that the changes to the law would be made before the end of this year.

The Indonesian minister’s announcement echoes a similar statement made in February  by the Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who called for an end to his country sending women abroad to work as housemaids and nannies, although no timeline had been mentioned.

“I have given Manpower Minister a target to come up with a clear roadmap on when we can stop sending female domestic workers. We should have pride and dignity,” Widodo said at the time, according to a report in the Straits Times.

In an editorial, the Jakarta Post described the latest ban as “unrealistic” and warned that it would drive the emigration process underground, leaving Indonesian women even more open to exploitation.

“The minister rightly cited the vulnerability of women to abuse in the private space of employers, but it is the task of the state to facilitate the right of citizens to work while constantly working to improve their protection.

A moratorium would be the better option instead of banning people working anywhere. Labor agencies with decades of experience in the Middle East could easily continue to recruit workers illegally, making our migrant workers even more prone to abuse,” the newspaper said.

It added that a lack of opportunities back home drive many Indonesians to seek employment in the Middle East.

Indonesians in Qatar

Qatar is home to around 20,000 Indonesians working in domestic roles, Amnesty International said last year, citing 2010 census data.

Domestic workers are vulnerable in part because they are not protected under the country’s Labor Law. There is no legal restriction on the maximum number of days a week or hours each day they can work.

“The fact that Indonesia has taken the drastic step of enforcing this ban speaks to how desperate the situation is,” Amnesty research Mustafa Qadri told Doha News.

“The ban reflects how serious the situation has become for migrant labour in the Gulf. The GCC states must urgently address the chronic abuse and absence of labour law protections for (tens of thousands) of domestic workers who are especially vulnerable to physical, sexual and other (forms of) violence.”

Bruises on the victim.

Chantelle D'mello

Bruises on the victim.

Last month, the case of an Indonesian woman working in Qatar who was hospitalized for several days with injuries she said were inflicted by her employer drew outrage.

The 25-year-old woman told Doha News she fled her sponsor’s home after being beaten by the metal end of a hose. Numerous scars, abrasions and scabs were visible on the woman’s back, arms, shoulders, stomach and face. She said they were the result of nearly two years’ of abuse at the hands of her employer.

The woman was later discharged from Hamad Hospital, but her status in Qatar remains unconfirmed.

Women who flee abusive situations here risk being caught by police. Labeled as “runaways,” they are then locked up in detention centers for months at a time while they await deportation.

Amnesty International’s 2014 report “My sleep is my break,” details cases of physical, psychological and sometimes sexual abuse inflicted on domestic workers by expat and local sponsors in Qatar.

For years, Qatar and other Gulf countries have been considering introducing a unified domestic workers’ contract, which would have stipulated basic working rights for women employed as household help in all the signatory states.

During a meeting in November last year, it appeared that the single contract was close to coming into effect. However, labor ministry representatives from various states later back-tracked, reportedly saying they didn’t have the authority to introduce any binding changes.

Thoughts?

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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.

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Amnesty International

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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.

Agreement reached?

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.

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Business2community.com

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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.

Jurisdiction questions

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.”

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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.

Thoughts?