By Courtney Trenwith
Kingdom’s 2m domestic workers are among the most exploited in the country
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.
Saudi Arabia is happy to remind everyone they have oodles of of cash and very very wealthy, In fact all the Gulf countries do. Why is it these countries can't seem to afford a decent standard of employment law for the people who work for them, clean up after them and give them the freedom to enjoy themselves.
These laws don't really help at all! The Saudis will never try to undermine the slavery practiced by their citizens. Shame on Saudi!
Let's see now...9 hours per day of free time..thus 15 hours per day of duty time...times 6 days per week...equals 90 hrs/week....this is still slavery!! Also, who keeps their passports? Are they allowed a phone?
What is funny here is that a Saudi can pay a fine of 2000 riyals and it won't harm their pockets at all, a servant if penalized will pay an equal amount which in fact can be the total of a two-month's wage or even more than that...
To me this is not fair at all, we spend 2000 riyals on trivial things and we don't even need to budget for it at all...
This law seems to still ensure that the maids and servants are pressed on hard let alone the lack of arbitration that can review any cases of disputes in an unbiased manner...shameful indeed.
As much as I appreciate the frustration of all above comments with the poor quality and various loopholes of the new legislation, we have to remind ourselves that the implementation of labour rights -as with all types of new legislation in MENA and elsewhere- can only be achieved through small GRADUAL improvements. Most Gulf Arabs have learned to live based on slave exploitation since as far back as the crusades, and this is not something that can be changed with a single piece of legislation. Saudi enjoys a good standing amongst GCC countries and many of its laws are often copied by its neighbours later on, so this is a positive step to the right direction. Whilst we could all have easily made a better list if all items that would need to be included in this new law, we should now try to embrace it as-is, and promote it as it slowly settles in a conservative country - until the next one. Efforts should be directed at monitoring the (unlikely) strong enforcement of the law instead.