Browsing 'Maids' News

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Stephan Geyer/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

A weekly day off, the right to live outside their employer’s home, a six-hour working day with paid overtime and the right to travel at any time are set to be part of a new domestic workers contract agreed to by GCC labor ministers, including Qatar’s.

The draft provisions were agreed upon by Labor and Social Affairs Ministers who met in Kuwait earlier this week.

They are expected to be ratified during the third consultative meeting for Asian labor-sending and labor-receiving countries, known as the Abu Dhabi Dialogue, which takes place today and tomorrow, also in Kuwait.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Penny Yi Wang

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Unifying working conditions of domestic labor in Qatar and across the rest of the Gulf have long been discussed, but little movement has been made on any solid proposals.

This latest contract was first proposed in early 2013, but then stalled in subsequent talks as member states failed to agree on clauses such as a mandatory day off and a cap on working hours.

Now it would appear that the ministers have resolved their differences, as the director general of the public authority for workforce Jamal Al-Dosari confirmed to Kuwaiti state news agency KUNA that undersecretaries had finally agreed on the key aspects of the contract. He was quoted as saying:

“The blueprint of the contract provides for the right to leave, sets the daily working hours at six and paid overtime at two hours, and requires provision of decent dwelling.

“It bans employers from holding the passports of employees, ensures the freedom of housemaids to move or live outside the home of employer or travel at any time, and commits employers to furnish their housemaids with air ticket in case final termination of their contract.”

The single contract, which would affect around 2.4 million domestic staff working in the region’s six GCC countries, is expected to come into effect once it has been approved by labor ministers, possibly this week.

Meanwhile, a Bahraini labor ministry official invited human rights groups and foreign labor organizations to share their observations and concerns about domestic workers with GCC countries.

Undersecretary Sabah Al-Dosari added: “We in the GCC countries welcome the foreign workers and appreciate their contributions to the development of our countries.”

Earlier this week, 90 human rights and labor organizations issued a joint statement, reiterating calls for urgent action to protect migrant workers from abuse in the Gulf.

“Whether it’s the scale of abuse of domestic workers hidden from public view or the shocking death toll among construction workers, the plight of migrants in the Gulf demands urgent and profound reform,” said Rothna Begum, Middle East women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. This should include a thorough overhaul of the abusive kafala visa sponsorship system.”

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which represents the rights of workers throughout the world, told Doha News that while it welcomed the introduction of rights for domestic workers, it wanted to see the detail of the new provisions to ensure they complied with Convention 189 of the International Labor Organization, which outlined its own minimum requirements for domestic workers.

“We call on the Labor Ministers to make this draft public, so we can review the detail and make sure that what is being proposed complies with Convention 189. If it does, then of course we would welcome it,” an ITUC spokesperson said.

However, she said that questions remained over how the new contract would be enforced.

“There must be a robust inspection and reporting system in place for workers to use if they have to,” she added.

Pressure for reform

Complaints of  low pay, abuse and poor working conditions among housemaids and other domestic staff in the region are common.

In April last year, Amnesty International published a 63-page report  “My sleep is my break: Exploitation of migrant domestic workers in Qatar,” which called for a total overhaul of the system governing the rights of domestic staff, which it described as being broken beyond repair.

The report, which comprised of interviews with 52 women working as maids, included harrowing accounts of psychological, physical and sometimes sexual abuse of domestic workers based in Qatar, at the hands of both local and expat sponsors.

Using figures from the 2010 census, the report estimated that around 84,000 women in Qatar work in a domestic service role. Typically from poor countries, the women are a particularly vulnerable group that are subject to kafala rules, but are not currently protected under the country’s labor law.

Some of the most common complaints include being made to sign substitute contracts on a lower salary and with poorer working conditions, not having a day off, not being allowed out on their own and long working hours.

Human rights organizations also report maids suffering physical and sexual violence and verbal abuse from their employers.

Those who choose to leave their situation are classified as “runaways” and can be arrested and jailed, pending deportation.

François Crépeau

Peter Kovessy

François Crépeau

UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants Francois Creppeau found last November that most women being held here had left their employers due to poor working conditions. He encouraged authorities to stop punishing domestic workers for being abused.

Also on the agenda for labor ministers is to discuss changes to the kafala (sponsorship) system, which restricts the movement of workers between employers.

Qatar first announced in May plans to revise its system to make it easier for expats to change jobs and leave the country. However no firm date has been set for when these would come into effect.

Thoughts?

Domestic worker

Inspectors from the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs plan to target Qatar’s recruitment agencies that specialize in supplying housemaids next month to ensure the businesses are complying with the country’s labor laws.

The crackdown follows multiple complaints from Qataris and expats, the Peninsula reports.

Top of the list of customer frustrations are high agency fees, maids who run away and agencies’ failure to replace maids who have left their sponsor, according to the Peninsula, which cites a report in local Arabic daily newspaper Al Sharq.

The aim of the month-long inspection campaign is to make sure that agencies are meeting the conduct and performance guidelines laid down by the ministry.

Agencies that have not been performing according to government recommendations will given assistance to get up to scratch, Al Sharq said.

The ministry has established a complaint hotline for customers (8006611) and a three-day target for its team to take action on each grievance.

UPDATE | Nov. 4, 2015: The hotline now appears to be out of service.

Agencies’ performance

Last year, the Ministry of Labor’s ratings system for 135 maid recruitment agencies revealed that more than half were given a sub-standard grade.

A total of 79 manpower agencies were given the lowest classification of ‘C,’ while 10 lost their licenses for labor violations.

Some 17 firms received ‘A’ grades, and the top-performing companies were awarded 10 free maid visas each.

Last month, MOLSA announced it would publicly name and shame manpower agencies which were found to have broken the Labor Law (Law no. 14 of 2004) by releasing their names to local media.

In a letter to agencies, it warned that it would operate a “three strikes” rule, saying that any company found to have violated the labor law and had three complaints filed against it would be publicly named in local newspapers.

Recruitment offenses

employment contract

The law bans agents from charging fees to recruit workers to Qatar and requires that all expats have a written contract signed before they enter the country.

However, several international reports have found that some agents here and in the most popular lab0r-sending countries do not follow those rules.

A recent study commissioned by Qatar Foundation revealed that many laborers and domestic staff are charged huge fees of up to $5,000 to pay for their passage to Qatar.

Unable to afford such sums, these workers take on enormous debts in order to satisfy the agents.

The practice of substitute contracts is also rife, the report found.

Workers are often required to sign one contract in their home country, but when they arrive in Qatar are forced to sign a replacement one, with lower salary and poorer terms and conditions.

New worker housing

Qatar has been trying recently to make steps to improve conditions for blue-collar workers.

The Ministry of Municipality and Urban Planning (Baladiya) is about to float tenders to local contractors to build new housing complexes for 28,000 workers, the Peninsula reports.

The plan is to build seven residential units, each housing around 4,000 laborers, with ancillary shopping, entertainment and social blocks.

There will also be Ministry of Interior facilities such as immigration, police and traffic offices.

This complete workers’ complex will be built on the outskirts of Doha to meet “international standards,” and will rehouse workers who are currently living in the center of the city.

This is the latest step in an ongoing move to move all labor camps out of Doha, to the Industrial Area and other outlying communities.

 In 2011, the government made it illegal for labor camps to be in residential areas.

An exception was made for workers’ accommodation in Al Rayyan municipality, but only on the condition that there were no Qatari families living nearby.

Single men, dubbed “bachelors,” are often turned away from shopping malls and other leisure complexes in Doha, particularly on Fridays – the common day off for most workers.

West End Park

West End Park

Dedicated entertainment areas for workers , such as West End Park, in the Industrial Area, have been built in recent years.

While some welcomed the facility which includes an amphitheater, shopping mall, four-cinema complex and cricket stadium, other have said such initiatives foster social divisions.

Thoughts?

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Stephan Geyer/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Fears over Ebola and concerns about potential human rights abuses have been making it harder for some Qatar residents to hire domestic help.

A number of applications to immigration for housemaid visas have been rejected in recent weeks, particularly for women from African countries, some residents have said.

Although no official reason has been given, one recruitment agent told Doha News that visas particularly for Kenyan nationals are currently being blocked due to concerns over the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.

While outbreaks of the virus have so far centered on West Africa, Qatar has upped its vigilance and anyone entering the nation from affected countries is subject to medical screening and “intense surveillance,” the Supreme Council of Health has said.

Human rights

Meanwhile, Ethiopia has temporarily stopped female citizens from working as domestic helpers in Qatar and most other GCC nations over human rights concerns.

An official from the Ethiopian Embassy in Qatar confirmed to Doha News that the ban, which also affects laborers, has been in effect for several months.

He said the recruitment freeze is in place while the country’s government passes new legislation to protect its workers. Provisions will include a minimum salary and set working hours, in a bid to reduce incidences of “people trafficking.”

Ironing

The effects of these measures, coupled with the ongoing unofficial ban on visas for domestic workers from the Philippines, has made it harder for some families to juggle taking care of their children with work commitments.

Childcare woes

As there are no official breakfast clubs and after-school clubs in Qatar for children to attend, such families rely heavily on nannies and maids for wraparound childcare, before and after school hours and during school holidays.

One mother of two children who works as a lawyer told Doha News that she recently applied for a visa for a new maid after her previous help left Qatar, but her application was declined.

“This is a huge issue, especially when so many expats are moving over here or returning after the end of summer. If I can’t get a new housemaid, I don’t know what I will do. There is no real infrastructure in Qatar for working families.”

Another working mother recently applied for a visa to sponsor a Kenyan housemaid/nanny, but was also rejected.

Her recruitment agent, who works in Doha for a Kenya-based firm, told Doha News that several of her clients had recently also faced disappointment. The agent, who asked not to be named, said:

“This has been going on for about a week now. In that time, six clients have all told me that their visas were rejected.

“We believe it is due to concerns about Ebola.”

She added that a potential visa ban could have a significant impact on the migrant Kenyan workforce, as around 3,000 Kenyans were due to move to Qatar for work in the coming months, and up to 12,000 of these expats are expected to migrate in the next year.

The Kenyan Embassy has not yet responded to requests for comment.

Meanwhile, recruitment agents have told local media that there is currently a ban on recruiting domestic workers from some African countries.

However, officials at the South African and Ethiopian embassies in Qatar told Doha News they had not experienced any problems recently related to Ebola concerns.

Increasing demand

maids

Qatar’s booming economy and population explosion have led to a surge in demand for domestic help, but potential employers should know that the rules are complex and ever-changing.

Qatar grants approval to certain countries to send workers as domestic staff. Traditionally this has included the Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia and Nepal.

Bangladesh, Cambodia and Vietnam more recently joined the ranks, along with the first European countries of Bosnia and Macedonia, the Ministry of Interior announced last year.

However, this does not mean that visas are always available for nationals from these countries, as human rights issues have led some countries to impose their own restrictions on their nationals from working in Qatar.

When Ethiopia agreed to send domestic workers to Qatar last year, its Minister of State for Labor and Social Affairs told the Peninsula that it was on the condition that its authorities would receive monthly reports about salary payments and work timings.

But it is not clear if this has happened, which may explain why the country has banned its women from working in Qatar, as well as the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

However, the Ethiopian embassy official who spoke to Doha News said that officials were working closely with the Qatari government on the issue, and have had a “very positive response.”

A resolution on the issue was expected in the coming months, he added.

Workers’ rights

The issue of regulated salary levels and working conditions for domestic workers – including hours per day, days off each week and holiday entitlement – is a contentious one.

There has been an unofficial ban on new visas for Filipina housemaids for non-Qatari sponsors for nearly two years, following a diplomatic tussle between the Philippines and Qatari governments about a minimum wage requirement of $400 (QR 1,500) per month.

Meanwhile, at the beginning of last year, Indonesia temporarily suspended recruitment of its domestic workers to Qatar.

An embassy official said they were overwhelmed by an increasing number of maids fleeing their employers to seek shelter at the embassy.

Such women complained of long working hours, lack of days off, low salary or non-payment of salary, the official said.

Qatar has been talking about passing a law to shore up domestic workers’ rights for more than a year. But progress has been slow, as employers push back against requests from governments for better treatment.

A GCC-wide unified contract that would set minimum conditions of employment for domestic workers has been through several drafts, with the latest due to be discussed by the GCC Council of Ministries of Labor this November.

Thoughts?