Restrictions on foreign labor recruitment have driven many Saudi families to resort to the illegal practice of maid rental in order to cover the shortage.
According to Saudi law, a maid has to only work for her sponsor, who is responsible for her legal and financial status as long as she stays in the kingdom. Violators of this law are fined 30,000 riyals and banned from recruiting maids for five years.
However, the latest shortage has boosted the maid rental market run by a group of brokers who make each maid work in more than one house.
In addition to the laws that govern that recruitment of foreigners, the cost of recruitment has become excessively high, amounting to 18,000 riyals.
This has made it easier for many families to resort to maid rental brokers especially with their domestic needs increasing as the holy month of Ramadan draws near.
Only a few licensed companies that are to open soon to solve the domestic help crisis will be allowed to engage with maid rental, according to head of recruitment in the Mecca region Abdullah al-Alian.
“As for individuals, they are not allowed to rent maids or offer their maids for rent even if the maid agrees,” he told Al Arabiya.
There are cases, he explained, when a family chooses to hand over its maid to relatives for a while on a friendly basis and this is allowed.
“Otherwise, it is absolutely illegal,” he added.
Alian said that the maid rental phenomenon has encouraged maids to run away from their employers’ houses to take advantage of the increasing need for domestic help.
“They know they will get more money if they work in other houses, so they run away.”
Brokers are not the only ones involved in maid rental, for some Saudi families make a living by lending their maids.
“The money I get from offering my maid for rent is what I live on. I get a total of 3,200 riyals per month and I raised the maid’s salary from 800 to 1,200 after I started the rent business,” said 60-year-old Om Nasser.
Om Nasser added that she is aware what she is doing is against the law, yet she has no other means of making money.
“Had it not been for this maid, I and my children would have starved.”
For Sara, offering her maid for rent helps other Saudi families who cannot afford paying recruitment fees.
“In addition to exorbitant fees, recruitment from countries that have the best maids like the Philippines, Indonesia, and Nepal has stopped so there aren’t many options left,” she told Al Arabiya.
Sara argued that it is much better for families to rent the maids from other families than to go to one of those brokers.
“Isn’t renting a maid from a known family much better than renting an escapee you know nothing about?”
Sara explained that she had paid 16,000 riyals to hire her maid and that she has to make up for this amount.
“I need money to cover the maid’s expenses. She needs food, medical care, and a salary so at the end of the day the profit I get for myself is very meager.”
Om Ali, who rents four maids every day, says that as Ramadan approaches, household chores are doubled and renting maids becomes a must.
“Even families who already have one maid will need others to help with the Ramadan load,” she said.
Maid wages, Om Ali explained, are higher in Ramadan so that daily payment would go up from 180 to 250 riyals.
“Maid rental is an entire budget in Ramadan like food.”
Om Fahd, who supervises the rental of several maids with an hourly rate, said that the real challenge for her is making sure of the reputation of the family she will rent the maid to in order to ensure her safety.
“The maid also makes more money under this system for she makes an extra 20 percent of the salary she gets with the original family when she works for another family,” she said.
However, a large portion of maids are not satisfied with this system.
For Simyati from Nepal, the 20 percent she gets is much less than the effort she makes.
Mahbouba from Ethiopia said that many times she has to work more than the hours agreed upon which makes her extremely exhausted.
“In all cases, I can’t leave the house if it’s not all cleaned so I might stay more hours and I hardly sleep,” she said.
According to Mahbouba, the contracts she signs say she should only work for eight hours a day and is entitled to one day off per week.
“But this never happens on the ground.”
Maid rental fees are expected to decline with the establishment of new companies specialized in maid recruitment and with prices that are much less than those paid by families to hire maids.
Chairman of the National Recruitment Committee at the Saudi Chambers Council Saad al-Baddah said that the Saudi Recruitment Company will start it work two weeks before the holy month of Ramadan.
“This will be the first company to work in the recruitment of maids and applying will be through the company’s website,” he said.
Baddah added that this new system will help in getting rid of illegal brokers who have opened a black market for maids and will make wages much less.
“The system will also curb the phenomenon of escaping maids because it will be very difficult for them to work in other houses since we will make sure all families get their need of domestic help.”
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)