By Arab News
This newspaper regularly publishes stories about maids in the Kingdom — maids attacked, murdered, abused, raped, unpaid, held as prisoners, treated as slaves — and sometimes even maids executed. There is also the all-too-regular complaint that maids steal and are untrustworthy.
As we have said before, the vast majority of domestic staff are content, the vast majority of their employers considerate. But there is a minority who are not. The way some Saudis treat their maids is outrageous and has given Saudi Arabia a bad name. They beat them and force them to work all hours, every day of the week, every week of the year while there have been some cases of sexual abuse too. Such behavior should be punished with the full force of the law. Yet it seems at times that the legal system favors not the maid but the abuser, especially if he or she is a Saudi.
As for the complaint that some “run away,” the very phrase denotes a sense of ownership. It is arrogant. Prisoners and slaves run away, not employees.
Given the way some maids are treated by their employers, it is hardly surprising they flee. They do so because they are abused and/or badly paid. It is about time that a society was set up to help them escape. In any event, employees should have every right to leave, even if they are not abused. In every other country, people have an unquestioned right to quit their job.
The notion that maids should be held responsible for the search fee paid by the employers to an agency is also unfair. They did not receive the money. If the employer is not prepared to bear the loss, he should try and get it back from the agents. They are the ones making most of the money out of what virtually amounts to a racket. A commission is fair but it should be payable over a six month or longer period, terminated if at any point the maid leaves.
Earlier this week, we published an article from a local Arabic paper in which the writer complained that maids were now in a position to demand more than SR2,000 a month because of disputes with their home countries over their treatment. He also alleged that “most housemaids” vanish after stealing valuable objects. He himself had had two maids “run away”. The article has created quite a considerable stir, and rightly so.
There are those who pay their maids far less than a thousand riyals a month for a seven-day week, working from 6 in the morning till late at night — SR800 is quite common. This is not acceptable. Frankly even SR2,000 a month is unacceptable. How many Saudis would work all hours for that? There should be a fair wage for a fair day’s work. If people cannot afford to pay a decent wage, they have an alternative: They can do the work themselves.
Maids are not slaves. They are human beings and should be treated with dignity and respect — and part of that respect is a decent salary. As it stands the present system of employing maids is fundamentally rotten, not least the practice of not paying them for the first six months or more in case they disappear. The whole system needs government attention and changes in the law.