Female Domestic Labor In The Gulf States Research Paper Sample
Beginning in the 1970s, massive waves of immigrant workers, particularly for domestic work, have been streaming to the Middle East, which has become a lucrative work pool for these workers. It is estimated that approximately 10 million expatriate workers, mainly from the Southeast Asian and South Asian regions and from Africa, reside and are employed in Gulf region countries. The remittances that these émigrés send to their families in their native lands greatly benefit the economy of their countries as well, triggering increased interest among others to immigrate as well. However, as transient workers that are constricted to the contracts of their employers, these workers are often deployed to positions and areas that place them in the greatest possible risk with little possibility and access to justice (Manseau 25).
The growth of the oil industry in the Middle East by the 1970s led to a rush of unskilled as well as skilled workers to the region. With rising living standards realized by the locals in the area, openings for female domestic labor dramatically expanded. With the rise in oil prices from Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), oil importing nations began to send immigrant laborers to the Gulf nations. Saudi Arabia is the largest market for expatriate domestic laborers; the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is not far behind, with approximately 75 percent of its listed population under the classification of “expatriate migrant workers.”
Opposed to popular notion, women that migrate for work do so out of their own volition. Majority of these have a high educational attainment level and are considered as mainly from the middle class in their respective countries. In fact, these women are proactive in their approach to looking for employment overseas. Though there is a substantial financial factor in the consideration whether to seek employment overseas, majority of the women do so out of a sense of experience, equipping, or self-sufficiency. Fueled by these elements, the women often take on substantial amounts of debt and pay recruitment companies unconscionable fees to fund their migration.
Heavily dependent on the conduct of their employers and the recruiting party, expatriate domestic laborers become modern day “slaves” with the employers whom these workers have even met prior to their employment, exposing them to possible exploitation and maltreatment. As servitude is banned, serf owners often times resort to contracts as a way to justify and hide the activity. For a migrant to secure employment opportunities either in Saudi Arabia or in the UAE, the potential domestic worker must first go through a visa mechanism for sponsorship (Kafala) binding the worker to the patron.
Though the sponsor as well as the employee has the capacity to reject the contract, the purported parity in the contract is a lie; if the laborer breaks the agreement, then the laborer will be the party to shoulder the cost of the plane ticket for the return trip; should the agreement been consummated, then the sponsor would have been the one to pay the charge. In addition to the payment of the airfare, the laborer may also be penalized or coerced to settle the debts incurred with the recruitment company.
With this patronage policy, the laborer is heavily reliant on the generosity of the employer who can foist deportation over the head of the laborer for unsatisfactory work, whether it is factual or invented. When the domestic worker is in the host nation, these are immediately obligated to relinquish their travel papers to the employer. Even at this early stage of the employment of the laborers, the mechanism for exploitation is already working against the worker (Halabi 43).
Debt enslavement is one of the factors that motivate women to seek work overseas; the total amount for the work permits and the airfare are outside the available resources of the worker. Debt subjugation bolsters global worker migration by permitting women mired in abject poverty to find work aboard and pay off their debts. However, this instance also helps in the fostering crookedness and rather than aid in the uplifting of the worker, this will in fact exacerbates the economic as well as the social exposure of the laborers. The work entails strenuous and often inordinate work hours, often stretching up to 100 hours a week, and overtime compensation is virtually non-existent. Many of the workers can work up to 4 years in the country without being compensated; if the worker will be given rest days, the average will be one or 2 days out of the month (Manseau 33).
It is widely held that expatriate workers do not enter into a legally obligating contract that lists their safeguards, liberties, compensation, work hours, and their corporate relationship to the employer. To cite an example, the worker will be asked to sign the contract prior to leaving their native country. When the workers arrive in the host country, the agreed upon contract signed earlier will be abrogated and thrown out and replaced with an Arabic language contract with completely different provisions.
This is the situation in the Saudi expatriate labor sector; in the UAE, none of the abused workers surveyed by the ILO had a contract in their possession. Patrons are not the de facto bosses of the workers; this is the reason that these sponsors will readily distance themselves from their obligations when the workers begin to complain or ask to return to their home country. When the employee are retrenched, or when the contract is over, or should the employee lose their jobs for any reason, the worker will be obligated to find another sponsor; if the worker does not find one, she will be forced to return home immediately.
Should the worker not find another patron, the worker will be arrested and imprisoned for transgressing against the country’s immigration policies. Underhanded employers will deliberately not extend the documents of the laborer or fraudulently accuse them with the objective to designate the worker as an “undocumented alien” and skirt paying taxes and the airfare of the worker. The laborer is traditionally imprisoned sans due process and then penalized financially for running away (Manseau 30).
Even though incidents and reports of abuse and exploitation have proliferated in the media, migration statistics from countries such as Sri Lanka, Indonesia, the Philippines, and India continue to rise dramatically in the last 10 years. What is most noticeable is the marked change in the composition of the labor pool, with a pronounced inclination towards more women in the pool.
At present, domestic labor is the largest single critical work employment in the Gulf region as well as Jordan and in Lebanon. In a historical note, domestic labor in Middle Eastern states were done by severely impoverished locals, both and female. This societal practice has transformed in recent times as rising wealth among local families have led to increasing instances of hiring overseas domestic workers. In addition, the steadily rising numbers of women entering the Arab work force, and the evolving perception of women’s roles in society, also has significantly contributed to the hiring of overseas domestic laborers (Halabi 43).
Academics have correlated the rising reliance on overseas domestic workers to the political and social cohesion of the countries in the Gulf region. Countries such as the Saudi Arabia and UAE can specifically opt to import domestic labor in order to buttress political strength. In this light, Saudi officials and the growing “civil society” sector agreed to trade; the government will allow the “importation” of increasing numbers of domestic workers to sustain the decadent lifestyle of the demographic class while the “civil society” elements will cede complete political power to the government. Moreover, the inexpensive and flexible resource base for domestic workers caters to a critical part in Arab society; by hiring domestic servants, the role of the women as “child bearers” will remain unchanged and foil the progressions in the male-female model. These preserved the cultural benchmarks that emphasized on the responsibility towards the family and redirecting these domestic burdens on the women in the sector.
However, the asymmetry generated by the heavy dependence on the rising numbers of expatriates for household labor is triggering social hostility as well a negative repercussions in the media. Foreign domestic laborers have been marked as the patsies in the muddled social system in such a manner that the abuse of these expatriate domestic workers, whether through physical, sexual, or verbal attacks, violation of their fundamental human rights, and denial of protection under labor laws have become entrenched in the system of these societies.
Noticeably, the restriction of household helpers from South and Southeast Asia and Africa has developed a revolution regarding domestic laborers. Household laborers in the GCC states are now only done by individuals of Asian or African origins; laborers of the host countries reject these types of work, even though these are severely impoverished and are unemployed. In the context of the Saudi and UAE societal mechanism, this “racialization” of the domestic worker market is only a continuation of the servitude practices in the past, which was still legitimate practice up to the 1960s (Manseau 30).
Prevailing labor statutes in majority of the Arab League do not provide protection for expatriate domestic workers, heightening the threat against this sector. To cite an example, the 1962 Labor Act of Qatar specifically declares that the tenets of the law “do not apply to persons employed as domestic help in private homes.” In a similar vein, Part 2, Article 2 of Oman’s Labor laws reiterates the position of the Qatari law, which the law does not apply to domestic workers in the country. The same is the case for household help in Bahrain; the country’s Labor Law for the Private Sector (1976) exempts domestic labor from the protection of the law.
The principle here is that domestic labor is done in “private residences” compared to offices or other workplaces and that private employers does not fall under the term “employer” under labor laws. Hence, if the work is conducted outside of the purview of the laws, these cannot be monitored by labor regulators; hence, the domestic worker does not fall under the definition of “employee” and the tasks these are mandated to do are left pregnable. Their statuses are left undefined in national laws and are denied the status of “real workers” that should be given protection (Fontes Chammartin 17).
However, many of the domestic workers recruited to serve the growing elite in the Gulf states did not have the required documents, and in a foreign state, these workers often are under the employ of their female bosses. As households in the Middle East are often composed of extended members, the workload of the workers can be extremely heavy; cleaning the house, washing, cooking meals, caring for the children and the elderly members of the family are some of the varied tasks that these workers are obligated to do in the course of their daily work. The working days are long; it is expected that the worker will have 10-20 hour work days, and the maid will even be forced to work longer if the female boss will think that the maid must serve even late at night.
Owing to the highly demarcated workplace environment of domestic laborers, female household workers are the most exposed sector to the risk of abuse in the UAE or Saudi Arabia. Household workers are often refused liberty to freely move, either by forcibly restricting them to the home and even locked up inside the house. Brutality against domestic workers range from physical assaults inclusive of sexual attacks to slapping the face; other forms of hostility against domestic workers include over working the employee, forcing the maid to work in more than one household, refusing to give rest days, reduced compensation, and even withholding of the employee’s rightful wages. These are also subjected to denigrative practices, such as invasion of privacy and starvation.
Cultural issues between the workers and the female employer are also rife; the ability of the maid to impose their native culture on the minds of the employer’s children has been a source of tension. These instances can be worsened by the possibility that the worker and the male employer can engage in an illicit affair. Lastly, racial bigotry and other tangible forms of racism against migrant laborers are not uncommon (Halabi 44).
Fontes-Chammartin, Gloria “Women migrant workers’ protection in Arab League States” <http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---arabstates/---ro-beirut/documents/publication/wcms_204013.pdf
Halabi, Romina. “Contract enslavement of female migrant domestic workers in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.” <https://www.du.edu/korbel/hrhw/researchdigest/slavery/fmd.pdf
Manseau, Gwenann.S. “Contractual solutions for migrant laborers: the case of domestic workers in the Middle East.” <http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/hrlc/documents/publications/hrlcommentary2006/migrantlabourers.pdf
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