The Ethiopian government has cancelled 40,000 work visas for housemaids destined for Saudi Arabia in retaliation to the kingdom’s ban on the recruitment of domestic workers from the African country.
Saudi Arabia last week announced the temporary recruitment ban while it investigates the alleged murder of children by Ethiopian maids.
A six-year-old girl died at her home in a town near the capital Riyadh last month after her throat was apparently cut with a knife. Her family has accused their Ethiopian maid of murdering her.
Several similar incidents have led to discussion on social media websites about the apparent growing number of children dying while in the care of their maid.
A hashtag on Twitter calling for the deportation of all Ethiopian domestic workers has gained traction in recent weeks, although the father of the six-year-old girl has urged Saudis not to make generalisations about Ethiopians.
Others have blamed parents for leaving their children with maids.
An official from the recruitment committee at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry told Arab News the Ethiopian government had stopped processing visas, including those started before the kingdom’s latest recruitment ban.
He said Saudis who had initiated the visa process to hire an Ethiopian domestic worker would have their money refunded.
There are an estimated 40,000 Ethiopian visas for Saudi Arabia in process.
Saudi Arabia had been forced to increase its intake of Ethiopian domestic workers after other labour exporting countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines banned their citizens from working in the kingdom because of disputes over exploitation and workers’ rights.
India only agreed to allow female domestic staff to work in the kingdom again last month, after an agreement between the two countries, despite the fact it would mean they could be hired on lower pay than before the freeze, according to Al-Hayat newspaper.
In March, Saudi Arabia refused to sign a draft deal with Indonesia that would allow domestic helpers to again seek work in the Gulf kingdom, claiming the Asian country was attempting to interfere in disputes involving Indonesian nationals in Saudi courts. Indonesia banned maids from travelling to the country for work in mid 2011 after requesting raises in minimum salary, weekly time off and reassurances over human rights after a number of cases of abuse by Saudi employers. Saudi responded by applying its own ban.
Last week, Saudi Arabia also passed historic legislation outlining the rules and responsibilities of both domestic workers, including drivers, and their employers.
It includes giving workers nine hours of free time daily, one day off per week, one-month paid holiday every two years and sick leave.
In return workers can be fired or penalised if they do not respect Islam, obey Saudi law or “carry out their duties perfectly”. They also must obey their employer and his family members, protect the family’s property, preserve family secrets and not harm children or elderly members, the law reportedly states.