Wednesday, June 07, 2006

What is “domestic help” abuse

This article "Punishment is OK, But..." can’t go without comment. Sorry. Well, not sorry in the “true” sense of the word, but, it’s THESE types of articles that make me want to just grab someone – let’s start with the author – by the throat and start shaking them. What? Are you for real? WTF is wrong with you?!? Let’s assume, for the purpose of me ripping this person’s viewpoint to shreds, that “Haya” is a woman. Sounds like a woman’s name to me.

Haya begins by saying that she respects the Ministry of Labor’s decision to ban citizens found to abuse their maids and drivers from employing domestic workers. We’re both on the same page, so far. We’re not very far down the page, but we’re on the same page. This, however, is where Haya loses me – and we’re only on the very first paragraph! Haya “just wish[es] the ministry would identify the types of abuse such workers suffer so that others can learn and realize that maids and drivers are human beings with rights as well as needs.” Haya, if the Ministry doesn’t identify “the types of abuse” for you, does this mean that you think it is probably okay to beat them with a stick? Not pay them? Force them to work to 140 hours a week? Not let them eat? Chain them up so they can’t “escape?” What, Haya, would constitute abuse in your simple little mind? And, did you not ever think that they were “human beings” to begin with? They are not animals [let’s not even go here!], but they are not robots or clones, either. Do you think that just because they are imported from another country that, unlike you, they wouldn’t have any needs? As far as “rights,” well, this is an issue that I don’t think many employers of domestic help will ever be able to rationalize, so for time and length’s sake, we’ll pass over this, too.

Haya next says that she thinks that the ministry should “support” these employers in cases where “they suffer financial loss or any other harm by the misbehavior of employees or agencies.” But of course. As if the scales of justice weren’t tilted in favor of the “employer” over the “employee” so badly, now, that they about topple over now, let’s just throw the damn “scale” over on its side and get it over with then.

She substantiates this by saying, “when a maidservant [her word, not mine] or driver runs away from a household, no one reimburses the employer for the financial losses.” Haya continues to whine about how the employer might have to give the employee a travel ticket, blah, blah, blah. And, then, says, “There are many problems associated with drivers. Sometimes the police arrest them after car accidents, which often lead to paying…” Haya, honey, if this is a concern of yours – don’t get a driver. Take a cab. The only place you need to go anyway is the mall and your husband can take you on the weekend or when he gets home from work at night. And, until someone, here, does something about the driving, your chances of getting in an accident are better than not. But, for you to be concerned about the driver getting arrested, Haya, well – this isn’t the attitude I expect from you – so far you didn’t know that these workers were human beings or that they had rights and needs – why are you worried about a driver being arrested? Ahh, of course. It will cost somebody something. Here’s an idea: Since you’ve withheld this person’s pay for the last three or four years, why don’t you use that money to pay the fine? Surely you aren’t concerned about this person languishing in jail… And let’s just for a minute, take a look at why it is that the driver got arrested to begin with. Three words: He’s a foreigner. Everybody knows that only foreigners ever get arrested – they are the only ones ever at fault! It’s never a “local’s” fault! [Forgive me for even thinking so.] We’re still only on this third paragraph, and Haya has about exasperated me! She says, “The running away of employees is a growing and serious problem.” Yes, Haya, it is. The employees are wising up just a bit and realizing that they truly are human beings with rights and needs and that you can no longer abuse them – work them to the bone – lock your food up so they can’t eat – lock them up so they can’t get to the food – and NOT pay them! Goodness gracious. Why would anyone want to flee a situation as idyllic as that? Haya thinks it would be best if “rules and regulations were put into place that punish perpetrators [she is referring to the runaway maids and drivers, here, not the employers!] of such misdeeds.

I honestly don’t know if I can continue with this or not. It is just too unbelievable to me that there has been space in the paper allocated for this article where a large advertisement for our “World’s Largest Hypermarket” could be. I do believe I would much rather know how much a kilogram of carrots costs this week than read what Haya has to say. Certainly the advertisement would be a much more judicious use of newsprint.

Haya says that “we need to protect the rights of domestic employees; especially because some people abuse them by not paying them, overworking them day and night, physically attacking them and forcing them to work in different homes in a single day to collect salaries from different sources. Some people want servants to do multi-role[s] simultaneously as nannies, cooks and maids. I imagine such people are in the minority because in general Saudis by nature are soft and kind.” [You see why I wasn’t sure I could continue?] Haya, in the first paragraph of this article you didn’t know what “abuse” was. And, here, really I’m not quite sure if she believes this is abuse or not. Her last sentence, “I imagine such people are a minority…” She is probably correct. I doubt there are too many more “people” that are abusing their domestic help any more than what is stated here. How could they? I mean, really, what else could they possibly do to them? Amazing that she believes that some of this domestic help should do multiple jobs, i.e., nannies, cooks and maids. Speaking only for me, but when I grew up this was called “my Mother.” When I had my one and only son, it was “me.” I was THE nanny, THE cook and THE maid! [And I worked a full-time job, too!] The very last sentence, where it says, “… by nature are soft and kind.” They are soft, alright. Soft, as in dim, pathetic…

“Problems with employment are increasing and solutions are not forthcoming. There is a necessity to protect different involved parties, especially the citizen who spends an average of SR7,000 to SR8,000 to recruit a domestic servant or driver, an amount that is almost double the salary of a middle class Saudi [this IS monthly salary, not yearly]. So when a maidservant runs away people suffer financially.” Haya, if your income is only SR7,000 to SR8,000 a year, you CANNOT afford domestic help! You don’t have any extra money, so why would you employ a driver to take you to the mall where you can’t afford to buy anything?!? What, then, exactly are you doing with your time while the “maidservant” is cleaning, cooking and tending to your children???

Haya “assumes the implementation of a fingerprint system has become compulsory for the safety of all. This is especially the case since many maids are forced to leave the Kingdom because of acts of crime, immorality and even jeopardizing children’s safety.” [Yes, and they join gangs and take part in sorcery, the females “have babies on the streets” and they create “smelly areas.”] Well, Haya, if these people were given a decent wage, they probably wouldn't have to resort to any crime – hell, never mind given a decent wage! How about just paying them the measly wage you promised them!?! And, at some future point, I will address some of the other aspects of crime – I touched on it ever so briefly with the “supply and demand” theory, yesterday. I am, however, convinced that if all of the husbands of these women who are home abusing “maidservants” and “drivers” weren’t so busy with the other runaway maids that are involved in “immorality,” then there wouldn’t be any immorality! [For goodness sake, you’re allowed more than one wife! And that’s not enough for you? You have to find runaway maids to serve your needs on top of several wives? {Yeah, okay, maybe not the best choice of wording there.}] As far as jeopardizing children’s safety – let’s save this one for another time, also.

“I believe that it is every citizen’s right to protect himself and his wealth, which are being wasted in the employment of such people.” Once again, Haya, and I don’t know how many times I need to explain this to you, if you didn’t have this help, you wouldn’t be “wasting” your money. And, with a salary as you earlier stated, you need to be doing everything you can to protect your wealth. Oh, wait, you are. You don’t pay the help! Well, then, how can the money be wasted? And, Haya, as to “How can an employee return to the Kingdom after being forced out because of criminal convictions, immoral behavior and child abuse?” Oh, I don’t know, let’s just venture to guess that maybe there’s a bit of a pay-off system taking place. The same pay-off system that is used when people like you, as the “employer” are NOT supposed to be able to hire other household help after you’ve been caught abusing the help you had prior. Silly me – we have to wait to have “abuse” defined for us.

“Saudi citizens must be protected from cracks in the system so they don’t continue recruiting more maids each year because the last one ran away and others rebelled after arriving only three months ago.” Haya, I can’t take it anymore! You just don’t get it. And, apparently you never will. This is like a friggin’ hamster wheel! The system is one that will continue in one big never-ending cycle until the end of time here. No sense trying to explain to some people. It is just a waste of time. There is a bit more to the article. Let me know what you think.

It is probably a very, very good thing that I am virtually locked in a gilded cage – locked in! I hate to think how I might conduct myself if ever given the opportunity to confront one of these women and use all my might to make them see the light of day.

[I get this mental picture of a woman lying face down on the ground – no, not me – with another woman pinning the woman on the ground down – that would be me – holding on to the hair of the pinned down woman’s head, slamming it back and forth, back and forth, into the pavement, muttering through clenched teeth, “how can you NOT understand this, WHAT the FUCK is wrong with YOU?!?” over and over and over again… Ahh, now that’s idyllic…]


  1. Well... the housemaid situation is not good anywhere in the Gulf, I don't think. We have a housemaid and we've had probs w/ her. We pay her a good salary, she gets all the food she wants, I've given her clothes and I buy her things, she has a TV, a dvd player and cable. She also has a huge room w/ a private bathroom in the house. But... even w/ this, she still causes problems. So... not all housemaids are good. She doesn't listen to me, she moves things around even after I've told her not to, she lies, and several of our animals have died and/or gotten sick since her employment. I could tell you soooo much more, but I won't right now. Maybe in a blog sometime.

    I do agree tho... many ppl shouldn't have housemaids, but most everyone feels like they deserve one or two or three. Almost everyone here in Bahrain has a housemaid - even when they're poor. I disagree w/ this.

    I have also seen abuse first hand of housemaids and/or other staff and completely disagree w/ this. I have been encouraged to abuse ours.. but I would never do that.

    But... anyway.. my point being that there is a middle to all of this because I have seen both sides and am living w/ a girl that I think isn't on the up and up.

  2. Tooners - Just curious, then, why do you keep her? When her year / contract is up, ship her home! I'm sure there are bad "maidservants." No doubt. I know I have a "house assistant" [man] who I pay very, very well, try not to "micro manage," and that I we are very generous with time off, etc. If I ever thought he was lying to me - poof - gone - if he ever took anything from me - poof - gone - and I have made it very, very clear that if he ever wants to see his eight year old son at home in the Philappines, then NOTHING will happen to Spencer or Shasta. I would not even accept "natural death" from him as an excuse. No way.

    I guess the point of my comments, however, is that far too often the help is abused, that people here do think its a "right" not a privilege to have help, and they do not treat the help well at all - and I'd say this is more the norm than not. You are an American girl - and you know that no where else in the world - well, okay - just not our part of the world - do people have domestic help like they do here.

    Sorry, Tooners, but if I had the maid you had and was having such problems I'd be cleaning my own house until I could get a new one. How can you stand it???

  3. Brava Sabra!!!!

    You hit a home run with this one.

  4. Well, I just wrote a huge response but it "poofed" away...

    Anyway... you are in your own world there. You get things a certain way because of where you live and the situation you are in.

    My father-in-law owns the business that provides housemaids and he provided ours. We have stated many times that we want to get rid of her and it is supposed to be in the works. Her contract is up at the end of this year and I DO NOT want to keep her until then, we have stated this many times. Housemaids in Bahrain sign two year contracts, not one.

    My situation is different than yours and it's just not as easy as you try to portray it, and there are many situations out there that you haven't seen and are unaware of.

    I have told my housemaid if anything happens to my cats there will be trouble. But, let me ask you this, what do you truly believe will happen to the "house assistant" if something were to happen? You think the authorities would put him in jail? They might for a month and then they'd deport him. What if he tells you he doesn't know what happened? What then? The animal is gone and what are you left with?

    Oh yeah... your "house assistant" speaks English, right? Mine doesn't. Our housemaid portrayed herself much as a dear sweet girl when she first started working for us, but... funny how things change when you are given such luxuries and afforded what other housemaids are not.

    Have you ever had a female working for you?

    Things are not as easy as "poof". It bothers me that you say it so matter of factly and nonchalantly.

    I did do all of my own housework, both when we were living w/ his family and now in our house. But his mother, my mother-in-law, insisted that we get a housemaid. I still do all the cooking and the laundry. W/ his mother, there was no room for the word "no" when it came to getting one.

    And.. remember, I am married to a Bahraini, you are not.

    I am emersed in this culture... I see things that you do not see. I see both good and bad. I've seen what these girls are like - the housemaids - both good and bad.

    Anyway... things are not the same in the States... I've stated this many times on my blog, and have talked about housemaids and workers being abused. W/out a doubt it's happening and w/out a doubt ppl believe they own these ppl. And that isn't right. The abuse isn't right. They talk about change here... hopefully, altho I doubt it... it will change. But in saying this, there are those out there that will NEVER change.. not matter what.

  5. northern shewolf6/07/2006 09:36:00 PM

    Congrats. on a great post!
    Why the heck is it that domestic workers are not paid weekly or biweekly, even on a monthly basis as they are in the 'real'world? This is something I cannot understand, these people once in Saudi employ are, want it or not like all expats., sort of captive of a medieval system, so what gives? Why is it not possible to pay them their wages as is done elsewhere? Or is it that most Saudis thinking themselves entitled no matter their purchasing power, so that they blightly hire with the criminal intent to defraud? I like you am enraged by this!!!
    And what of this exit plane ticket that must be purchase by people like this b...h who complains about it? I must be real thick, i just do not get it: I was raise with servants in my home and can tell you that my parents paid wages weekly with bonuses at holidays and birthdays, and never paid for traveling expenses of their employees. The idea is that you accept to come and work for me, you make your own way. As to the ruaways, where the bloody hell are they running to??? Saudi is not a place you can escape from without money & passport. So from what I get here there is actually bunches f street people?.?.? Hard to imagine with Muttawa Inc. constantly trolling for someone to abuse???
    And what is this, saudi housewifes making pocket money with a side business 'rent my maid'?
    Too too disgusting...
    And Sabra,
    Think voodoo, that would probably work even from the confines of the gilded cage: nice little wax dollies stuffed with a couple of hair from the head of any Saudi b...h, a box of sewing pins and a nice set of knitting needles...I leave the rest to your creative imagination.

  6. Debbie(aussie)6/08/2006 09:46:00 AM

    Thankyou Sabra, for picking up the reigns. (kust found you re Angie in comments at RP).
    YOu have a way with words too. It will be great to visit.

  7. Debbie(aussie)6/08/2006 09:59:00 AM

    I often feel the same way,(visions of violence) and I don't live in an oppressed country. What does it take for some people to open their eyes? Heaven help us, the blind are everywhere.

  8. Tooners - I regret that maybe the way I responded seemed to come off in the manner it did to you - it really wasn't my intent to make it sound like your situation could be fixed with a simple "poof." I have no idea how the whole "contract" system works for all the domestic help in the Mid-East - I only know that sending my guy back is at our discretion - and his contract clearly states that we can terminate him for a variety of misdeeds and we send him back. We pay for it. I don't think he has to go to jail first. And, hopefully he will conduct himself in such a manner that he doesn't do something outside out employ that would cause him to be thrown in jail! Not to say that it couldn't happen... And, yes, thankfully he speaks English! As far as my "kids," you and I discussed this at your comments - the dog fighting thing - that is what I am most afraid of. So, yes, I'd be out of "an animal" if he said something happened - but I'd also be out of "help." I would send him home. He has been quite trustworthy for two plus years, I hope nothing changes in this regard. I do know that a Saudi woman, here, who I've gotten to be good friends with, had a maid, signed the contract, etc., it went great for about ten days then things started happening. Too long a story to get into - and it wasn't "major" stuff happening, just little things, one after another, however, and the lies, and small things missing, etc. Security here was called, then the police, and they took the maid off to some facility downtown in Dhahran or Khobar where she stayed until she was literally escorted to the plane two days later - by my friend and her husband - and yes, they had to pay for it. I certainly was not trying to trivialize your situation, and again, not knowing how all of this works, was simply stating that if I had any control over the situation I would make it end. Not having control over the situation - well, not being in those shoes - I guess I don't know how I'd handle it - but I certainly can see how one could become "abusive" in a situation like that - the very same abuse that I am so against. And, no, but for having a weekly "housekeeper" in the states, I've never had a woman working for me in a domestic situation. Woman working for me as secretaries and administrative assistants, yes, but not as "maids." Sometimes I think a maid would be better to have than a "house assistant" and I use "house assistant," because I think that "houseboy" is just derogatory, because I don’t think you wake up one day in the country you’re from and say, “I think when I grow up I want to be a houseboy to some spoiled, bitchy American woman.” The guys, most of them, actually have skills – mechanics, carpenters, etc., and but for the fact that there is NO work in their countries, they come here as “house assistants.” Regardless, no Tooners, I am not in your same situation, I was simply stating that I’d get rid of the maid. That said, of course, I truly have no first-hand experience of the ramifications that are associated with this, it certainly sounds easy enough to do, but as with many other things here in the Middle East, what sounds simple enough isn’t always that way… Will keep my fingers crossed for you that you can somehow work it out to get household help that you will be pleased with, as I do understand that as being part of the culture and your mother-in-law insisting on this for you! At least if it’s something you have to have – and hey, I’m in no position to talk – have no intentions of giving up my household help, here! – well, let’s just hope you can get the right person to work for you and that at least if you’re not “happy” about it, there will be a middle of the road, and it will be a more livable situation. Good luck!

  9. In the real world, employers hire people all the time who simply don't work out. You pay them, train them - its an investment of time and money and if it doesn't work out, you learn to just take your punches and write it off. Eventually you learn that sooner you cut your losses, the better (for both the employee and the employer).

    I don't mean to insult you tooners, but you sound like you are speaking about a teenager. If that is how you treat her, she will likely act like one (I am not excsuing lying and stealing, but it is useful to consider that these things don't happen in a vacuum). I am assuming she is not, and that likely she comes from a household in which she has some status. There is "story" there and not an easy one, I would imagine. No one (certainly none of us who are reading this blog) would like to be in her position, living in a strange country in a strange household far from her family. So why did she do it? Certainly not because she wanted to. Many of these maids have had to leave children behind - is that true with her?

    The sad truth is that no matter how well you treat her, as long as she is in your household, in effect, you "own" her. (Prissy from Gone with the Wind comes to mind.) She has no rights, no autonomy. Nothing except that which you "choose" to give her.

    The problem is that this is all occuring within a system which is rotten to the core and inherently abusive, no matter how "nice" you are as an empoyer/owner. Remember the Gulf countries only recently outlawed actual slavery, and so the entire manner in which the system is set up is a mimicry of actual slavery. It is a system of bonded servitude.

    My sense is that anyone who can afford a maid should be able to afford the loss if she doesn't work out. They are paid little enough that an airfare back to whereever they come from isn't really that big a deal, if you really think about it. Or as Shewolf said, pay them enough so that they can be responsible for their own airfare if it doesn't work out.

    Here in the US, rich people hire nannies thruogh nanny agencies. If the nanny doesn't work out (steals, lies, etc), the agency bears the bulk of the financial responsibility. I am saying this because I think that ultimately, the slave traders - er - the agencies which recruit these maids are making out like bandits on both ends. Particularly since they charge huge fees for their "services."

    Like Shewolf, I was also raised in a household with servants. They were paid weekly or bi-weekly, they had set hours, they had holidays, regular days off (in which they could do whatever the hell they wanted to). As children, we were strictly forbidden to give them "orders" or to talk balk (verbally abuse) them. They were adults in our household and we were expected to give them the same respect as any other adult. There were a few that did not work out and they were gone - one was a nanny from England and my parents paid her airfare back to the UK. Were they happy about it? No, but as their sponsor, it was their responsibility.

  10. northern shewolf6/08/2006 09:02:00 PM


  11. I was viewing the comments in Alhamedi's last blog, and linked over to "Stilettos". Yeah!! I was so disappointed when the RP blog stopped, but now I am thrilled to find another that expresses so well the frustrations and lack of logic and personal responsibility that exist so blatantly in KSA. I will be moving back to SA this summer with my family for the 3rd time. I am so not looking forward to it, but I feel I have found another who shares my views and outrage. Any advice in maintaining one's mental health will be appreciated. I always feel such a sense of outrage and hopelessness. Not to mention THE WALLS !!!! I feel so confined and miss the simple beauty and nature of my home in the US. OK, I'm already turning into a "negative nelly". Thanks for your blog, I will be reading! Fondly, Kristine

  12. Kristine - Sadly, I have no advice for you. However, if you're in the Eastern Province, we can get together and have a nice iced latte at Starbucks in the Women's Section and commiserate together... I know the feeling about “mental health,” and often question my own sanity. What the HECK am I doing HERE? [There’s the phrase about the “bullshit bucket.” How full is it? Well, when the paycheck is deposited at the end of the month, the bullshit bucket doesn’t seem as full as it was… It goes something like that.] It is easy to be consumed with outrage. I, for one, have this new outlet for some of mine, and hopefully that will alleviate some of my frustration. Please, let’s hope! And as far as being a “negative Nelly” but best way to make sure you avoid becoming one is to avoid negative people at all possible costs. Maybe you won’t want to have that iced latte, after all…

  13. Great post! So many people don't know what life is like for domestic (& other) workers in the Magic Kingdom & your entry definitely tells it like it is.

  14. I work in Bahrain, we went through this agent to employ a maid. I spend more 1000 dinars to get her here. Guess what? We found she had TB when she went through her medical for the residence permit. She ran away that nite, she wasn't dumb at all, she came with contact info of other Sri Lankans working here. The cops caught her after 2 days in raid for illegals. It was quite a nightmare.

    She got a new maid now, "Mary" from Ethopia. So far we ahd no trouble with her.

    My point is that employers r not always the reason why the maids run away.


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