Riyadh: With the advent of Ramadan, there has been a thriving illegal market for housemaids in the Kingdom. This is because of the growing demand for housemaids and their low supply due to the Labour Ministry's decision to ban recruitment of domestic workers from Indonesia and the Philippines early last month.

The huge demand for domestic staff in Ramadan has resulted in shooting up wages of illegal housemaids up to 150 per cent, according to market sources.

Normally Saudi families depend heavily on the domestic staff during Ramadan. There are several agents actively engaged in the illegal trade of supplying housemaids locally. This turns to be a lucrative business for them at the expense of Saudi families.

Earlier, a family could hire a housemaid for a monthly salary not more than 2,000 Saudi riyals (Dh1,950). But now the salary ranges between 3,000 and 4,000 riyals.

Sa'ad Al Baddah, chairman of the National Recruitment Committee at the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry, said that the licensed recruitment offices have nothing to do with flourishing the illegal market for housemaids. "Some unlicensed or bogus recruitment firms and agents are behind this illegal market. Some ladies' beauty parlours are also engaged in such illegal acts," he said.

Punitive measures

Speaking to Gulf News, Al Baddah said that the Saudi authorities are taking stringent punitive measures against those engaged in illegal trade of housemaids. "If any one of them caught for this illegal activity, he would face penal action, including imprisonment and fines. There are some government agencies that keeps a close watch on such traders and agents," he said.

Al Baddah urged citizens not to approach such unlicensed offices or agents to hire housemaids as this involves high risks for them. "There may be some housemaids who are inclined to criminal acts or are affected with diseases. If any one of these maids die due to a disease, their employers will be in trouble with legal complications," he cautioned.

Al Baddah drew attention to the recent decision of the Labour Ministry to regulate the recruitment sector in the Kingdom.

According to the new directives, there will be only five major recruitment companies in the Kingdom. These companies would start functioning after six months. He hoped that the new move would help put an end to the illegal housemaid market in the Kingdom.

Al Baddah lauded the ministry's decision to impose the ban on recruitment of housemaids from Indonesia and the Philippines. The Ministry has taken the decision to stop issuing work visas following tougher hiring conditions imposed by these two Asian nations. The move came as a reaction to an earlier decision of these countries to suspend recruitment of domestic workers to the Kingdom until meeting some of their strict conditions.

Alternative arrangement

Al Baddah said that efforts are underway to recruit housemaids from other countries such as Morocco, Nepal, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Vietnam where the labour is comparatively cheaper.

Meanwhile, Mohammad Al Mohammadi, chairman of the recruitment committee at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the Eastern Province (Asharqiya), said that most of the recruitment offices had virtually halted hiring domestic staff from Indonesia and Philippines, a few months before the ban, and this was attributed to the exorbitant charges for recruitment.