Now the maids are calling the shots
With increased work during Ramadan, Saudi women are forced to employ ‘illegal’ housemaids, who direct the terms of their employment
August 31, 2008 9:25 by kippreport
There is a high demand for runaway housemaids during the month of Ramadan in Saudi Arabia, says Arab News, because women want to devote more time to worship and receive more guests. Since there are no arrangements to bring extra maids into the Kingdom during the holy month, most families hire illegal housemaids who happily dictate their terms.
“I have been looking for a maid for some time. Most of the maids I’ve had have made difficult demands, such as salaries of around SR2,000 ($530) and weekends off. If exempted from cooking, they may work for around SR1,800 ($480),” says Umm Saeed, a housewife.
She was finally able to hire a maid for SR1,000 ($266) through a middleman. “The maid couldn’t speak Arabic and the broker took SR300 ($80) in commission,” she adds.
Hanin Omar, a nurse in a Madinah hospital is having to pay more. “I have found an Ethiopian maid for SR2,000 ($530) to help my maid during Ramadan. Many of our relatives will be visiting us. We have to treat them well, because we meet only once a year,” she says.
Umm Mahmoud says she expects plenty of visitors as the school holidays this year fall in Ramadan. “My regular housemaid will not be able to do all the cooking and other chores. I need extra hands,” she says. A maid agreed to work for her on condition she be given weekends off and paid SR1,500 ($400) a month. “She said she wouldn’t do any kitchen work and warned she would leave if the work was too hard.”
Fatima, an Ethiopian, says she has been working illegally as a housemaid for the past 15 years. “At the beginning I did not know how to cook or speak the language. A Saudi family employed me for very low wages. But they taught me how to cook and speak Arabic. After working with them for five years, I looked for a better job. But I was arrested and deported.”
After two months she returned to the Kingdom, and worked for several families. “Now I earn SR2,500 ($666) a month because I can cook well,” she says.
Sarayati, an Indonesian maid, came to Saudi Arabia 10 years ago, to work for a Saudi family in the Eastern Province. “After working with them for five years, I was sent to Riyadh and then to Jizan. Later I ran away and went to Madinah. A maid from my country introduced me to a man who found jobs for runaway maids,” she says. “He took me to a place where I found several runaway maids. He found a job for me with a salary of SR1,500 ($400) a month. I had to pay SR200 ($53) in commission to the agent each month.”
Masyu runs an agency that supplies runaway maids. He tells Arab News that, with the help of friends, he collects the telephone numbers of maids and then calls them to persuade them to leave their sponsors.
“If a maid is willing to come, then I will meet her in a public place and take her home. She will stay there with my wife until I find her a job. I get a good commission from both the maids and their new Saudi employers,” he says.
Major General Saad Al Zayedi, a spokesman for the Passport Department in Madinah, says the department makes regular checks on illegal workers and often receives tip-offs from members of the public. “People who give shelter to illegal workers can be fined between SR10,000 ($2,666) and SR50,000 ($1,333) and jailed up to six months.”
Meanwhile, the Nepali government has stopped granting work permits to women to work as housemaids in Saudi Arabia and Malaysia. Several Nepali housemaids are reported to have undergone abuse by their employers in these countries.
Earlier this month, the Sri Lankan government announced that it would provide an insurance cover for all its domestic workers in Saudi Arabia. More than 80 percent of the 550,000 Sri Lankan workers in the Kingdom are housemaids.
Saudi Arabia has also agreed to increase the minimum monthly wage of Sri Lankan maids and drivers to SR650 ($173) starting from January.