The Saudi government has shown some concern about abuse against domestic workers, as demonstrated by the creation of shelters by the Ministry of Social Affairs, proposals to amend the Labor Code, and public service messages about better treatment of domestic workers. But much more systematic and social change is required.
Reforms in recruitment systems both in countries of origin and in Saudi Arabia are a critical factor to ensure migrant women obtain accurate, full information about their jobs, copies of their contracts in a language they understand, and avenues for assistance if needed. Transformation of labor and immigration policies is also key: currently the kafala system and the exclusion of domestic workers from labor laws place migrant domestic workers at high risk of exploitation. Finally, the Saudi government must implement massive improvements in the criminal justice system, labor-dispute mechanisms, and repatriation channels to ensure that those domestic workers who are unfortunate enough to encounter abuse also find justice.
Provide equal and comprehensive legal protection to migrant domestic workers, a timeline for adopting such protections, and the tools for implementation.
- Adopt the proposed annex to the labor law to extend protections to domestic workers. Ensure this amendment guarantees protections equal to those afforded other workers, including provisions governing hours of work, payment of wages, overtime, salary deductions, a weekly rest day, paid holidays, and workers compensation.
- Ensure the proposed annex is justiciable through the labor courts.
- Improve domestic workers access to labor courts to resolve wage disputes and other labor matters.
- Implement provisions in the Civil Procedure Code that require expedited payment of owed wages to domestic workers.
- Introduce mandatory orientation programs for Saudi employers on their legal rights and obligations when employing a domestic worker, strategies for dealing with misunderstandings due to communication barriers and cultural differences, and referrals to resources if problems should arise.
- Introduce mandatory orientation programs for migrant domestic workers upon arrival on their legal rights and obligations. Such programs should include information on where they can seek help in case of problems, training on financial literacy to use bank accounts, information about how to stay in touch with their families, introduction to officials from their embassies, and information about Saudi laws, such as activities that may be permissible in their home countries but criminalized in Saudi Arabia .
Reform sponsorship laws that link a migrant domestic workers legal status, ability to change employers, and ability to exit Saudi Arabia to her employer.
- Reform or abolish the kafala sponsorship system so that temporary employment-based visas are nonspecific about the employer. Ensure that workers can change employers without losing legal status and without having to obtain their first employers permission.
- Eliminate the requirement for migrant domestic workers to secure the consent of their sponsors for exit visas to leave the country.
- Create an inspection body to monitor rigorously the activity of recruitment agencies if they take over sponsorship of foreign workers as currently proposed. This body should have the power to investigate allegations of misconduct and institute penalties, including revocation of operating licenses, imposition of substantial fines, and referral of cases for criminal prosecution. Create a board with representation from all stakeholders, including labor-sending countries and civil society.
- Create an easily accessible and regularly updated database of employers and employees in order to track employers when domestic workers are missing or unable to name or locate their employer.
- Simplify procedures for authorization to repatriate the remains of migrants who die in Saudi Arabia.
Cooperate with labor-sending governments in regard to detained nationals.
- Notify embassies about detained nationals and developments in criminal proceedings, such as hearing dates, in a timely manner and according to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.
- Promptly notify migrant workers of their right to contact their consular officials, and provide access to facilities to do so.
- Cooperate with labor-sending countries to conduct rescues of migrant domestic workers confined to their employers house and forced to continue employment against their will. Simplify the procedures for authorization of such rescues.
Improve the facilities and protocols for the centers for domestic workers operated by the Ministry of Social Affairs.
- Provide women housed in the center with greater freedom of movement and communication, including the ability to call their families and embassies, take walks outside, and keep mobile phones.
- Computerize the files for ease of processing and tracking cases, sharing information with other relevant Saudi authorities and labor-sending countries embassies, and to monitor trends. Create and share blacklists of abusive employers and recruitment agencies.
- Provide professional interpreters for any interviews or meetings involving a domestic workers case and ensure the availability of staff fluent in the languages that domestic workers speak.
- Create a detailed intake form to ensure that all the issues of concern a domestic worker experienced are identified upon entry into the center.
- Separate the negotiations regarding unpaid wages and funds for a return ticket from the employers consent to provide an exit visa, to avoid heavily imbalanced bargaining power.
- Keep domestic workers informed about the status of their case and their available options.
Rigorously prosecute employers and employment agents whose treatment of domestic workers violates existing national laws.
- Investigate, prosecute, and punish perpetrators of physical and sexual violence against domestic workers.
- Allow domestic workers to transfer power of attorney to their embassies in such cases so they can return home and avoid waiting in shelters for long periods of time.
- Investigate, prosecute, and punish perpetrators of labor rights abuses that violate existing national laws.
- Increase penalties against abusive employers beyond prohibitions from hiring domestic workers in the future.
- Provide training for police to identify and investigate abuse against domestic workers and protocols on how to respond to such situations, and offer appropriate referrals. Educate police and immigration authorities about the importance of not returning domestic workers to abusive employers against workers wishes, and make sure they are familiar with procedures for filing complaints against employers and labor agents.
- Reform criminal justice laws, including evidence laws that make it difficult to prove rape, criminal punishment for adult consensual sexual behavior, and arbitrary punishments for supposed witchcraft or black magic.
Strengthen the regulation and monitoring of recruitment agencies.
- Improve the Ministry of Labors monitoring of recruitment agencies, including through an increased number of inspectors and unannounced inspections.
- Strengthen and professionalize protocols for recruitment, transfers, handling employer/employee disputes, and referral systems to Saudi authorities and labor-sending countries embassies.
- Consider an insurance program for employers to recover lost recruitment fees in situations where they have not committed any labor violations or abuse and a domestic worker has terminated her employment early.
Comply with international human rights standards.
- Ratify the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (Migrant Workers Convention) and key International Labor Organization conventions without reservations. Comply with treaty-body reporting requirements.
- Comply with the recommendations already issued by both the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination with respect to abolition of the practice whereby employers retain employees passports, and by the Committee against Torture regarding access to consular protection for migrant domestic workers in detention.
- Remove sweeping reservations to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
- Issue invitations to the United Nations special rapporteurs on the human rights of migrants and on trafficking in persons to conduct country visits to investigate the situation of migrant domestic workers.
Strengthen the regulation and monitoring of recruitment agents.
- Set forth clearly defined standards for fees and recruitment practices to reduce overcharging and deception by local brokers and subagents; and ensure that subagents who violate the regulations face meaningful penalties.
- Establish mechanisms for regular and independent monitoring of labor agencies and retained subagents. Conduct unannounced inspections of recruitment agencies.
- Establish a monitoring system by which domestic workers report to the government the costs they paid to recruitment agents prior to migrating.
- Rigorously collect and investigate complaints about nationals working at labor agencies in the countries of employment. Create procedures that allow domestic workers to register this information at foreign missions in the countries of employment and upon return.
Improve services for migrant domestic workers at embassies and consular offices in Saudi Arabia.
- Share information among embassies and Saudi authorities on blacklisted employers and recruitment agencies.
- Increase the number of trained staff to assist migrant domestic workers seeking assistance, especially in the areas of collection of wages, investigation and prosecution of alleged abuses, and rights while in detention.
- Introduce mandatory training for all levels of staff posted in Saudi Arabia on the rights of domestic workers and how to assist them. Ambassadors should send a strong signal that migrant domestic workers are citizens who have the right to consular assistance, highlight the contributions of domestic workers, and host events for domestic workers.
- Improve conditions in shelters and safe houses by training staff, providing trauma counseling and health care, and alleviating overcrowding.
- Develop a system for periodically checking on the welfare of domestic workers who have previously contacted the foreign mission for assistance.
- Provide services such as weekly skills training or Arabic classes to give employers an incentive to provide workers with a weekly day off.
- Ensure foreign missions have a 24-hour assistance hotline and/or is staffed 24 hours per day for domestic workers fleeing abusive workplaces.
Enhance pre-departure training programs for domestic workers.
- Increase the rights-awareness and foreign language components of training.
- Provide more detailed information about redress mechanisms such as how to pursue cases against employers and labor agents in the countries of employment, as well as after return.
- Provide information about legal limits on recruitment fees and mechanisms for lodging complaints against recruitment agents who violate the law.
- Ensure departing domestic workers receive an information kit containing the name, address, and telephone number of their employer; the address and telephone number of the embassy; the name, address, and telephone number of their labor agency based in the country of employment; a mobile phone or telephone card with pre-programmed numbers of the embassy; a certain amount of money in local currency; a copy of their passport; and a copy of their employment contract in both Arabic and the primary language of the domestic worker.
Expand public awareness-raising programs for prospective migrant domestic workers.
- Target villages and local places of employment of prospective migrant domestic workers to inform them about legal limits on recruitment fees and work contract regulations in Saudi Arabia.
- Collaborate with migrants rights groups to make this information available to prospective migrant domestic workers before they have made the decision to migrate and have retained a labor agency.
- Expand educational and employment opportunities for women so they are able to migrate out of choice and not desperation.
Cooperate to create mutually recognized and enforceable employment contracts, translated into both Arabic and a language the domestic worker understands.
Cooperate to create mechanisms to ensure redress for workers with complaints, including after they have returned to their home country.
Develop a system for freeing domestic workers who are confined in the workplace and unable to escape. Coordinate between local law enforcement, foreign diplomatic missions, and NGOs as necessary. Examples include providing all domestic workers with mobile phones, promoting multilingual hotlines (including text message hotlines), and implementing time-bound protocols for response.
Actively solicit the input of migrant domestic workers and civil society in crafting and implementing policies.
The ILO should adopt a Convention on Domestic Work when it examines domestic work as a standard-setting issue at the International Labour Conference in 2010. The ILO should create guidelines for integrating these provisions into national laws, a model employment contract for domestic workers, and tools for monitoring and enforcement.
Work with local groups to expand technical programs that provide labor rights education for migrant workers regarding international labor standards and their rights under Saudi Arabian law.
Work with governments to provide technical assistance and specific language to strengthen labor regulations, recruitment standards, and enforcement consistent with international labor standards.
Work with governments to increase regional cooperation and establish regional minimum standards for short-term labor migration, including through the Colombo Process, the Gulf Forum on Temporary Contractual Labourers, and the Global Forum for Migration and Development.
Work with trade unions to conduct outreach and mobilization involving domestic workers.
To Donors such as the World Bank and Private Foundations
Provide greater financial and institutional support for local NGO and other civil society advocacy efforts and services for migrant domestic workers. This includes support for participation in regional processes such as the Gulf Forum on Temporary Contractual Labourers, and increased networking between civil society groups in labor-sending and labor-receiving countries.
Increase resources for shelter facilities and trained staff, including social workers, for domestic workers at foreign missions.
Fund microcredit lending programs that provide more favorable interest rates for women who want to migrate, to cover migration costs.
Fund long-term domestic employment strategies for women, such as projects to develop sustained income-earning activities in their home countries.