Over the past few years, I had highlighted many a story on instances relating to domestic help abuse. In my writings, I always stood in defence of these workers who came to a foreign land to serve their employers and my stories often highlighted the trials that some had to go through and bear at great anguish to themselves.
Fortunately, there have been many accommodating labour regulations aimed at protecting and preserving the rights and dignity of the expatriate domestic help, but yet in some isolated cases, it appears that violations continue.
The picture would however not be complete if we do not consider the other side of the coin. That is the trials many employers have to contend with when dealing with the employment of such help.
Ghada, a mother of three and employed in the IT sector had this to say: “My husband and I share are both working to make ends meet and provide for a better life for young our children. We had to set aside hard-earned money to pay for the recruitment of a housemaid who would help when we are both at work.
First, we had to pay SR 2000 just to get a visa authorisation. Then we paid SR 22000 to a recruiting agent to find and bring us a suitable candidate from the Philippines and we waited for three months for this process to be completed. And do you know what happened?
“On the day our maid arrived, my husband went to the airport to receive her. After stowing her small suitcase in the trunk, he drove her home. When he reached our home, he popped the trunk and asked her to get her small bag while he went to open the gate.
At that moment a car drove by and our domestic help got in and the car drove quickly away. She did not even bother to take her bag with her! By the time my husband understood what went on and tried to locate the vanishing car, it was too late.
“She had not even stepped a foot in our house and she ran away. It seems there is a mafia out there who lures these maids with promises of better benefits either in their country or on the flights to this country or in airports and arranges for this kind of thing. Why did she accept to work for us in the first place if she wanted to be somewhere else?
‘So here we are, almost SR 25,000 spent for nothing and the misery and financial strains of having to go through the process all over again and once again trying to scrape up a similar amount.’
Samira, owner of a small art studio added: ‘I am a firm believer in human rights. I treated my housemaid as a companion more so than as a servant and would take her out on all my outings. I began to notice though that she would get approached by a few drivers loitering about outside the establishments I would frequent and on a couple of occasions I could swear that phone numbers were being exchanged discreetly.
Well, three months after she came here and I had her Iqama processed, I woke up one day and she had gone, lock, stock, and barrel. She disappeared silently and along with her so did some of my jewellery. Her contacts must have come in handy. I felt so betrayed.’
Mona, a resident of Jeddah laments on the state of ‘untrustworthy and dangerous maids who enter our houses and take advantage of our kindness and harm us, then spread lies about us to act as victims to get other jobs.
A list of maids should be complied and updated regularly so that we are not duped by them and there is some kind of control put over this abuse that employers face regularly which is never highlighted. It is an overlooked fact that maids aren’t always the abused ones; many times they are the abusers, but this fact is rarely highlighted.’
Mona’s comments have an element of truth. Employers, even good ones, have sometimes been the victims and on the receiving end. Yet very few of their stories get told. And in spite of very severe punishments for those employing runaways, these things do happen from time to time.
Local employment bureaus with imported domestic staff on their roster from where one could recruit the needed help be it for a day, a week, or for the whole year have bridged some of the gap for those not willing to go the distance a second time around and recruit directly from overseas. But the costs are beyond most pockets, as the customer ends up paying almost three times the monthly salary through the agency.
In any case, the onus of protecting the rights of both employer and helper should then fall squarely on employment agencies bringing these workers in, and backed by the government.
Tariq A. Al Maeena is a noted Saudi sociopolitical commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena