By D’Jay Lazaro
A migrant worker advocacy group has urged the government to do more to help Filipino maids in Saudi Arabia, who it says are at serious risk since Riyadh placed a ban on domestic workers from Indonesia and the Philippines last year.
Migrante International says since the ban thousands of Filipino domestic workers in Saudi Arabia – who were sending money home to support their families — are now working illegally and without contracts leaving them open to greater abuse and exploitation.
Last year the Saudi Labor Ministry stopped hiring maids from the Philippines and Indonesia after negotiations over halving the minimum wage from US$400 to US$200 a month and greater protection for them failed. Both Manila and Jakarta had voiced concerns over the way maids from their countries were being treated in the oil-rich kingdom.
Maids have become a hot commodity among wealthy Saudi Arabian families since the ban which has given rise to the illegal practice of “renting out” housemaids who are forced to work as virtual slaves, according to the group.
John Leonard Monterona, regional coordinator of Migrante in the Middle East, said it is now “common practice” among Saudi employers to “rent out” their housemaids. Employers will also send their own maids to relatives to work for a week or two. “Sometimes they are paid extra, but often get nothing.”
He said the “maid-for-rent” business is now a thriving black-market industry and is run by illegal brokers who provide workers, many of whom have escaped other employers.
A runaway maid usually gets 800 riyals (US$213) a month for “maid-for-rent” work but 300 to 400 riyals goes to the broker, Monterona said.
Cases of runaway maids have increased and employers have resorted to locking their maids up.
In a recent report in the Arab News newspaper, a Saudi doctor at a government hospital admitted locking her maid up to prevent her from escaping.
“I feel I have the right to do what is necessary since I am responsible for the housemaid. If she runs away I will be the one who has to pay and be burdened with extra household chores,” she was quoted as saying.
Monterona explained that the problem originated from laws requiring domestic workers to work exclusively for their original employer or sponsor.
If a woman is mistreated, runs away and is caught, recruitment agencies are subject to a heavy fine and are banned from hiring maids for 5 years, while the workers are sent packing back to their country of origin.
This gives rise to a situation where it is better for all parties not to report any abuses in order to avoid paying fines or being deported, he said.