Saudi Arabia

Country Profile



Facts & Figures

Some discrepancy exists between the figures reported by different sources.

There are 3.69 million migrant domestic workers in Saudi Arabia as of 2019, representing around 11% of the country's total population.¹ The largest share at 55% of this group (2.02 million) are drivers,² followed by maids and housekeepers at nearly 1.2 million.³

Of the household workers in Saudi Arabia, 480,000 are registered as domestic workers, with Saudi recruitment agencies reporting that they bring in a total of 30-40,000 domestic workers per month. However, the statistics reported by sending countries total to a much higher figure of over 1 million, with: 600,000 from Indonesia, 275,000 from Sri Lanka, and 200,000 from the Philippines.⁴

Resources

It is relatively difficult to find resources for migrant domestic workers in Saudi Arabia via a simple internet search.

Musaned is an initiative by the Saudia Arabia Ministry of Labor via which migrant domestic workers can access resources including a list of licensed recruitment agencies, rights and protections of foreign domestic workers in Saudi Arabia, required documents, and even a list of factors for employers to consider when traveling with their employee. Workers can also submit complaints via this site, however the form is only available in Arabic, making it challenging for foreign workers to access it.

Project 189 targets migrant workers in the more general area of the Middle East, and their site lists a series of programs and phone numbers that foreign domestic workers can call in the case that they require assistance.

A shelter located in the capital city of Riyadh assists in claiming wages and returning home.

The Labor Reform Initiative Services Guidebook by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development

Legal Framework

Saudi Arabia utilizes the Kafala system of visa sponsorship.

Saudi Arabia's laws are interpreted under Sharia (Islamic law). This often allows for sex segregation and isolation of women, which increases the risks experienced by female migrant domesic workers.⁶

Saudi labor law: The 2005 Royal Decree No. M/51 Article 7(2) explicitly excludes domestic workers from protections such as days off, limited working hours, and access to labor courts. In 2013, Ministerial Decision No. 310 was created to regulate the employment of domestic workers. However, the law still falls short in regards to protections for the workers, failing to set a minimum wage or overtime rate, and not prohibiting the exployer from confiscating a domestic worker's passport. The working hours are also capped at a much higher 15 daily hours as compared to the 8 hours for other migrant workers. In 2021, the Saudi Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development implemented its Labor Reform Initative, which makes marginal increases in migrant workers' rights, but it has nonetheless been criticized as insufficient in empowering the workers against abuse by employers, especially in the larger context of the Kafala system which remains largely untouched by such reforms.⁷

Complaints

Domestic workers represent less than a quarter of all foreign workers in Saudi Arabia, but represent the bulk of complaints of abuse.

The most common complaints by this group are: underpayment of wages, overwork, lack of access to healthcare, and inadequate living accomodations. Physical and sexual abuse goes underreported because women fear prosecution for adultery/misconduct if they reach out.

The labor recruitment industry for migrant domestic workers is poorly monitored, charging high fees and providing information about working conditions that is often incomplete and misleading.¹⁰

MDWinfo interviewed Brenda Dama, a Kenyan domestic care worker based in Saudi Arabia, about her experiences. She reported that despite her recruiting agency having insisted that Saudi Arabia has changed and that these issues are no longer relevant, she and her fellow migrant domestic workers still experience overwork, being scolded like a child, poor food and living conditions, and in rare cases sexual abuse and murder at the hands of their employers.¹¹ Read the full interview here.

The Ministers of Labor and of Social Affairs recognized the existance of such problems in 2006, but suggested cases of abuse are the minority.¹²

SOURCES

  1. 3.7m domestic workers in Saudi Arabia. (2020, April 16). Middle East Monitor. https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20200416-3-7m-domestic-workers-in-saudi-arabia/
  2. 3.7m domestic workers in Saudi Arabia. (2020, April 16). Middle East Monitor. https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20200416-3-7m-domestic-workers-in-saudi-arabia/
  3. Facilitating Exploitation: A review of Labour Laws for Migrant Domestic Workers in Gulf Cooperation Council Countries. (2014). International Trade Union Confederation. https://www.ituc-csi.org/IMG/pdf/gcc_legal_and_policy_brief_domestic_workers_final_text_clean_282_29.pdf
  4. Varia, N. (Ed.). (2008). “As if I am not human”: Abuses against Asian domestic workers in Saudi Arabia. Human Rights Watch. https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/saudiarabia0708_1.pdf
  5. Balasubramanian, S. (2019, February 11). Across Oceans: The Lives of Migrant Workers in the Middle East. Pulitzer Center. https://pulitzercenter.org/stories/across-oceans-lives-migrant-workers-middle-east
  6. Varia, N. (Ed.). (2008). “As if I am not human”: Abuses against Asian domestic workers in Saudi Arabia. Human Rights Watch. https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/saudiarabia0708_1.pdf
  7. Ibid.
  8. Varia, N. (Ed.). (2008). “As if I am not human”: Abuses against Asian domestic workers in Saudi Arabia. Human Rights Watch. https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/saudiarabia0708_1.pdf
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Original interview by MDWinfo.
  12. Varia, N. (Ed.). (2008). “As if I am not human”: Abuses against Asian domestic workers in Saudi Arabia. Human Rights Watch. https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/saudiarabia0708_1.pdf