On modern-day slavery in the Gulf

Ms Awadifo Kili, a Lawyer and Author. She advocates for human rights, among other issues surrounding human life and dignity. PHOTO/Courtesy.
Ms Awadifo Kili, a Lawyer and Author. She advocates for human rights, among other issues surrounding human life and dignity. PHOTO/Courtesy.

According to a study by Abu Dhabi Dialogue, a forum on migrant labor, the number of domestic workers surges each year. This is because thousands of new domestic workers head to work in the region’s wealthy households annually. 

Most of them are women who have brought their abuses to light.

There has been a question about how safe domestic workers are in the Gulf. This has been out of the abuses projected on them. 

Every year, driven by poverty, family pressure, conflict, or natural disasters back home, millions of women, mainly from developing countries, get on flights to the Gulf.

Some domestic workers have worked in the Gulf for decades and occasionally send remittances home that are used to improve their family’s socio-economic status, covering the cost of education, health care, food, and housing that has come with benefits such as gender equality back home.

Even though this could be developmental, they still get overworked and underpaid.

The Gulf needs them, yet booms on their sweat and blood drops.

The domestic workers expressed their grief within the pits of their sinking hearts, dressed in uniforms and head scarves but were abused. 

They expressed their woes, including getting no single days off or peaceful days without physical, psychological, and even sexual harassment.

Far from home and in foreign lands with foreign settings, domestic workers in the Gulf keep in touch with friends and family through social media, a medium through which they open up about the state of their lives and working conditions.  

Many of them lament that they are overworked, sexually harassed, and targets of discrimination, and end up crying every day. It is not an easy road.

The rather rich region of the Gulf depends on migrant domestic workers from Africa, Asia, and poorer Arab countries to keep its daily life running. 

The situation

The population of domestic workers in the Gulf ranges from housekeepers, garbage collectors, and guards, and they by far overweigh the actual population of the natives.

The employment criteria of foreign domestic workers in the Gulf are through firms and agents established to connect those interested in the system. Most times these employers take full control of them and do not have to take decisions to escape, changing jobs at their watch.

To implement their inhumane plans, the domestic workers’ passports, phones, and other communication systems are often confiscated to cut communication lines with their loved ones.

Some of the domestic workers are being returned by sympathizers, embassies, and even with the assistance of their loved ones.

Some of them sneak out in the middle of the night to escape.

So many domestic workers lose their right to work and endure a lot before running away.

There are legal provisions in labor law and human rights that do exist where these domestic workers could voice their complaints against their bosses, but their challenge is that they can’t access these services because many aren’t even aware of their rights or the Legal Protection Services.

However, there has been international pressure from migrant rights activists and international labor unions against this system I term modern-day slavery.

Migrant rights activists and source countries’ governments and workers have voiced their opinions against these labor law violations.

Rights activists and reports from the International Labor Organizations and United Nations, and migrants’ rights forums have, for decades, repeated that full protection of domestic workers must be possible.

Domestic workers in the Gulf need clear, strong, and enforceable contracts now. 

Domestic workers must be included in the labor law systems, and the labor laws should guarantee domestic workers annual vacations, including weekly rest days, a reasonable wage, and any limits on working hours.

In as much as there are key immigration reforms that conform to the standards set out in the 2011 International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Domestic Workers Convention, which requires states to extend equal labor law protections to domestic workers; adopt measures on labor inspection and ensure enforcement; and establish effective, accessible complaint mechanisms, it isn’t enough for governments and international bodies responsible for the safety of the domestic workers to tout reforms for domestic workers and then fail to deliver.

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There’s more they deserve than the tales of empty promises but rather a concrete action that promotes safe, fair, and dignified work.

And that should be done now.

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Awadifo Kili is a Ugandan Lawyer and Author. She is the Author of the books "Victorious Tales", "Echoes of Wails" and her recent book "Stains on a Cowrie Shell", a book crafted in an African narrative that presents the extent to which some traditions and customs are a barrier to the promotion and protection of human rights. Kili is passionate about human rights and her literature is around domestic, regional, and international human rights Law and perspectives.


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