Runaway housekeepers: Saudi sponsors push for reform

The cost for recruitment of a housemaid ranges from $5,327 to $6,659

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Despite drastic changes to recruitment and employment laws in Saudi Arabia and new work terms and conditions ratified by domestic workers and their respective employers, housemaids all over the country continue to flee their sponsors.

And while maids can seek justice in the kingdom’s courts with the help of their embassies, sponsors are left in the lurch when a worker runs away.

They are forced to absorb losses in the form of recruitment and other associated fees.

While steps have been taken to protect and guarantee the rights of domestic workers in recent years, citizens on the other hand have not been afforded similar rights and protection from domestic workers who run away, al-Riyadh daily reports.

Khaled Al-Ajaji is in-charge of a recruitment office in the capital and he said most recruitment offices are no longer capable of controlling workers and dealing with them as these workers resort to their embassies to intervene and protect them even when they are in the wrong.

“Meanwhile, we in the recruitment offices do not have anyone to protect us. The costs of recruitment are increasing, as are domestic workers’ salaries without any criteria.

Recruitment offices are not gaining from the rise in costs. Clients expect to get a maid when they pay thousands of riyals in recruitment fees but instead have to wait for months,” he said.

Al-Ajaji went on to say that recruitment offices abroad routinely fail to adhere to the set arrival date of workers, further aggravating employers who have patiently been waiting for their domestic workers to arrive.

“Also, in the case of the worker’s escape or refusal to work, the recruitment offices in the Kingdom are not compensated with another worker.

If there is a violation and noncompliance with the contract, they are not compensated as well. Furthermore, no penalty is imposed on the recruitment offices abroad.

We abide by their conditions but they do not comply with our conditions. This is a problem. If there is any complaint by workers against any office in the kingdom, they cease dealing with it,” he said.

Al-Ajaji called on the concerned authorities to create a blacklist of foreign recruitment offices that do not comply by the terms of contracts and hinder the work of domestic recruitment offices.

He also said it is necessary to reject any further hikes in costs and workers’ salaries. “The Kingdom is the only country in which the costs for recruitment of workers are rising multifold.

It’s gotten so bad that one of the countries from which the recruitment of domestic workers was resumed recently is demanding an increase in salaries for its nationals working as domestic workers in the kingdom as well as providing bank guarantees,” he said.

Al-Ajaji said among the leading problems facing recruitment offices in Saudi Arabia is that countries often restrict the number of recruitment offices that can send workers to the kingdom, which further drives costs as designated offices take advantage of their manpower monopoly.

Saad Al-Baddah, chairman of the Recruitment Committee at the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry (RCCI) and president of the Saudi Company for Recruitment, said: “The female domestic worker’s guardian should sign a guarantee document that in case of the housemaid’s escape, the guardian will refund the money paid by the Saudi employer.

This should happen the moment the employer informs the recruitment office of her escape. A worker should not be sent to her home country unless she has been investigated and punished.

Courts for violators of residency regulations should be set up. The penalties should include imprisonment and their embassies should bear responsibility,” he said.

Abdullah Ahmed Al-Maghlouth, economic consultant and member of Investments and Securities Committee at the Capital Market Authority (CMA), said: “The number of housemaids working in the Kingdom exceed 1.5 million."

"The cost for recruitment of a housemaid ranges from $5,327 to $6,659. The cost rises in Ramadan and the festival (Eid) seasons," he added.

"The family pays 10 percent of its monthly income as salaries for housemaids. There is a need for an information center linked to the Deportation Administration to record statistics on housemaids who escape from their sponsors without the latter’s knowledge.”

This story was originally posted on the Saudi Gazette on Jan. 3, 2015.

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