Saudi Arabia has passed historic legislation it claims will protect the rights of domestic workers as well as employers, according to local media.
The kingdom’s 2m domestic workers, including maids and drivers, have been among the most exploited employees in the country and the new law follows years of disputes between Saudi Arabia and labour exporting countries, mostly from southern Asia and Africa.
Workers will now be given nine hours of free time daily, one day off per week, one-month paid holiday every two years and sick leave.
Their probation period has to be limited to three months.
However, the law also allows for domestic workers to 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.
“The worker will not have the right to reject any work or leave the job without any genuine reason,” Arab News reported.
They will not be allowed to work for a personal business or engage in any activity damaging to the family.
The law also outlines responsibilities for employers, who cannot demand an employee carry out work outside of the contract or if it could be harmful to their health.
They must pay the worker’s salary at the end of each month and provide suitable accommodation and end-of-service benefits after four years of employment.
Employers who break the law will be fined SR2,000 ($533) and be banned from recruiting another domestic help for a year, according to Arab News.
Second-time offenders will be fined SR5,000 and banned from recruiting for three years, while three breaches will incur a life-time recruitment ban and a fine of SR10,000.
Workers who violate their contract also will be fined SR2000, be banned from working in the kingdom and forfeit their repatriation costs.
“This is a very important law that would solve many domestic help-related problems we are facing today,” World Assembly of Muslim Youth assistant secretary-general Mohammed Badahdah told Arab News.
“The law has clearly mentioned the duties and rights of both parties.
“Our Prophet has taught us that we should not ask servants to do something beyond their capacity and we should be merciful to them. We should pay them more than what is mentioned in the contract and give them from our Zakat and Sadaqat. If we consider them like a member of family, they will reciprocate by doing their duties in a better way.”
Saudi Arabia has a controversial history with domestic workers.
In recent months several house maids have been sentenced to death over accusations of abusing children in their care.
In March, an Indonesian woman was sentenced to death after being found guilty of murdering a four-year old girl in her care in September.
It followed the beheading of a young Sri Lankan housemaid in October for the killing of an infant left in her care in 2005. The case drew considerable controversy as Rizana Nafeek was apparently 17 at the time of infant’s death.
At various stages in recent years, labour exporting countries including Indonesia, Ethiopia and the Philippines have banned their nationals from domestic work in Saudi Arabia due to legal cases as well as allegations of exploitation.
The kingdom has recently sought to mend its relationship with these countries, announcing new agreements to improve the conditions of such workers.
In March, Saudi Foreign Recruitment Committee chairman Saad Nahar Al-Baddah called for a unified system governing the recruitment and working conditions of house maids across the GCC.