Essay Writing Help on Abuse and Exploitation of Migrant Workers in the Gulf States through Kafala System

Abuse and Exploitation of Migrant Workers in the Gulf States through Kafala System


According to the United Nation’s 2013 report, migrant workers from all sectors share common characteristics because they enjoy fewer rights in comparison to workers from the host populations. With regard to this fact, these workers in most cases might think that they are not entitled to full array of civil, social, economic, and political rights in their host states and countries. The most affected groups comprise domestic and construction workers. These workers think that the law does not protect them because of their low levels of education. However, this is not the case because international human rights law protects all migrant workers through substantive rights, labor rights, and norms of non-discrimination among other rights and norms (United Nations, 2013).

In the recent past, majority of young people from developing countries have been making their ways to the Gulf States in search of jobs. Although some of these people have been fortunate to secure themselves good paying jobs, others especially domestic workers are currently wallowing in poverty and in anguish after they made their ways to the region. Reports by the human rights watch indicates that majority of these workers suffer in the region and inasmuch as they would want to go back to their countries of origin, majority of them do not have their travel documents (Human rights watch, 2007).

As a common practice in the Gulf region, once migrant domestic workers make their ways to the region, their employers usually confiscate their passports. These employers do this because the kafala system requires them to sponsor these workers until their contracts expire. At the same time, these employers confiscate passports because they fear losing huge sums of money they spend in getting holding of these workers through recruiting agents. This notwithstanding, the labor laws in the region discriminate against domestic workers. In particular, they deny them protection by excluding them from certain privileges that other migrant workers in the region enjoy. In addition, the ministries of labor exclude these workers as well from the privileges that other workers enjoy (Begum, 2014). By so doing, migrant domestic workers are among the vulnerable groups of workers in the region, thereby their employers in most cases exploit and abuse them.  

In terms of abuses and exploitations, reports by human rights watch indicate that employers underpay these workers, in some instances they abuse them sexually and even fail to pay them. Apart from this, other reports indicate that employers beat them, abuse them verbally, lock them in homes, and overwork them (Kymlicka, 2014).

This research paper evaluates the abuses and exploitations of migrant domestic workers in the Gulf region. The paper argues that employers abuse these workers because the labor laws in the region do not protect them, and whenever these labor laws attempt to protect them, the ministries of labor do not enforce such laws. In particular, the kafala system does not protect these workers, but it protects employers by giving them excessive powers over the workers. The paper starts by evaluating the labor migration in the region and some factors that enhance migration of domestic workers into this region. After evaluating these aspects, the paper proceeds to evaluating the immigration and recruitment practices and policies in the region. The paper proceeds to evaluate the exclusions in the labor laws before evaluating the abuses and exploitations perpetuated by employers to these workers. The paper concludes by recommending what the Gulf States need to do to end these abuses and exploitations.   

Labor Migration to the Gulf and the UAE

The recent oil boom in the Gulf region that took place in the 1970s has boosted the economies of the Gulf States. Majority of these states are now rich with relatively low populations. For example, UAE is among the richest states in the region with a GDP of about US$383.8 billion. Though the oil industry is not the only thriving industry in the Gulf region, it has boosted other industries in the region. For this reason, majority of the people in the Gulf States, including women that previously served as homemakers currently work as employees in big companies (Begum, 2014). In relation to this fact, there has been a growing demand for domestic workers in the Gulf region.

As the demand for domestic workers has been increasing in the Gulf region, majority of the unemployed people from developing states have been making their ways to the Gulf region. In particular, recruiting agents located in developing countries, especially those in the neighboring regions have enticed young people to go to the Gulf States to work as domestic workers by promising them high wages. For example, in 2013, the international labor organization (ILO) reported that domestic workers accounted for 12.8 percent of the labor force in the UAE in 2008. The UAE’s government claimed that this figure rose to 13.1 percent in 2009 (Begum, 2014). While the ILO and UAE’s government put the number of domestic workers in the state at 12.8 and 13.1 respectively, the media, on the other hand, claimed that the figure was higher than these figures. Majority of the domestic workers currently working in the Gulf States come from Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, Nepal, Philippines, Indonesia, and Bangladesh even though their governments have in the recent past banned immigration to the Gulf region. However, the number of domestic workers in the Gulf States has not declined because recruiting agents have moved to other African states, such as Kenya and Uganda.

Some domestic workers perform one task while others, especially those in live-in employment, perform a number of tasks. Depending on the employment status, a domestic worker may work in a big family comprising twenty or more people. Some families may be nuclear families while others may be extended families. This notwithstanding, the abuses for these workers are the same in all set ups (Kymlicka, 2014).

Law Reforms

The labor laws for domestic workers in the Gulf region are problematic because majority of them do not protect these workers. Consequently, majority of the countries whose citizens have been working in this region have been expressing their dissatisfaction with the way the governments in the region have been watching silently as their citizens suffer in the region. Human rights watch groups have also been airing their complaints to the same governments. Faced with such oppositions, Gulf States have initiated or even proposed some reforms in their labor laws (Kymlicka, 2014). According to the human right watch report, the states in the region are discussing how they will develop standardized labor laws for the entire region (HRW, 2014). States like Oman, Kuwait, UAE, and Qatar do not accord domestic workers any protection under their labor laws. Though Qatar at some time claimed that it had a draft law that would protect these workers, the government has until now not made this document public. According to Roper and Barria (2014), the Qatar’s government is unwilling to unveil its draft law because it intends to continue with its exercise of monitoring foreign migrants.

The Bahrain back in 2012 overhauled its domestic labor law as it had promised in 2009; thus, extended annual leaves to domestic workers, and gave them access to labor disputes. Nevertheless, Bahraini domestic workers do not have weekly rest days, the number of hours they should work and minimum wages. In spite of denying domestic workers protection in 2005, Saudi Arabia reformed its domestic labor law in 2013. By making these changes, domestic workers in Saudi Arabia now have nine resting hours each day, one resting day every week, and one month for holiday after a period of two years (HRW, 2014). This offer sounds good, but the question is how many domestic workers remain in Saudi Arabia at the end of the day to enjoy a one month paid holiday after two years. In addition, with the new changes, it means that domestic workers can work for up to fifteen hours a day in Saudi Arabia whereas other workers have a limit of working up to eight hours a day. In Kuwait, domestic workers enjoy some protection under their contracts, but they have little or no access to justice system for enforcing their contracts.

In some instances, rather than instituting ample reforms, some governments in the Gulf region provide labor protection to domestic workers through bilateral agreements or through standardized employment contracts. These contracts and employment contracts vary widely, but in most cases, they do not become operational once domestic workers land in the Gulf region because receiving states do not enforce them (Murray, 2012). Murray claims that Jordan appears to be a reforming state because it is the first state to amend its labor law and protect domestic workers. However, the human rights watch asserts that reforming labor laws without establishing proper mechanisms of enforcing those reforms does not protect domestic workers from their employers. Accordingly, the human rights watch recommends that when states amend their labor laws just as Jordan does, they should inform workers and employers about these changes. According to Murray (2012), this would be a step towards the right direction of enforcing new labor laws in the Gulf region. Otherwise, the Gulf States are simply playing games by changing labor laws without enforcing them.    

Immigration and Recruitment Policies and Practices

Kafala System

The word kafala means sponsorship; thus, a kafala system refers to a sponsorship system. The system emerged in the 1950s to regulate relationships between migrant workers and their employers in West Asia. Currently, GCC states such as Qatar, UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, Lebanon and Jordan still practice this labor system (Roper, & Barria, 2014). Originally, the economic objective of developing this labor system was to provide a temporary labor to the GCC states during the boom and expel this labor during the less affluent periods. However, over the years the objective has changed to a slavery objective that ties domestic workers to their employers as long as employers need them.     

Under this labor system, domestic migrant workers are legally bound to their original employers who act as their sponsors (kafeel). As such, as the law establishes these workers cannot leave the Gulf States once they enter them and they cannot transfer employment while in these states as well as enter the state without written permissions from their kafeel. This means that domestic migrant workers remain under the custody of their original employers until their contracts expire. The kafala labor system enforces this condition by requiring kafeel to report domestic migrant workers to the immigration department if they transfer or leave their employment. At the same time, the law requires kafeel to ensure that these workers leave the Gulf region once their contracts expire (Roper, & Barria, 2014). Under this labor system, it is quite evident that domestic migrant workers cannot be in the Gulf States unless kafeel sponsor them. Therefore, in order to ensure that domestic workers remain under the custody of their kafeel, more often than not kafeel confiscate the travel documents, passports and other valuable documents of their domestic workers. In some states, the law prohibits this practice, but kafeel practice it anyway.

According to the human right watch, the kafala labor system ensures that domestic workers are completely dependent on their employers for residency and livelihood. At the same time, this labor system enslaves domestic workers and ensures that employers meet their labor needs by exercising excessive control over these workers. The kafala system refers to domestic workers as guest workers or expatriate labor. In theory, this labor system discourages domestic workers from staying in the Gulf States until their contracts expire. However, in case domestic workers remain in the states until their contracts expire, they risk arrests, deportation, unpaid wages and detentions (Oxford business group, 2008). On the other hand, in case domestic workers transfer employment without obtaining written permissions from their kafeel, their kafeel can charge them with ‘absconding’ in the courts of law. This charge is a criminal offense in the Gulf States even if migrant domestic workers may good reasons for transferring their employments. In light of this fact, it becomes quite impossible for migrant domestic workers to leave the Gulf States before their contracts expire because their kafeel must provide them with written consents (Roper, & Barria, 2014). Therefore, even if kafeel would not confiscate their passports and other travel documents, then it remains rather impossible for the migrant domestic workers to leave the Gulf States.

The Practices of Recruiting Agencies

Though the immigration departments are the ones that address the issue of immigration in the Gulf region, they do not recruit migrant domestic workers directly. Instead, there are recruiting agencies that perform this task. In other words, domestic workers make their ways to the Gulf States through private recruiting agencies. Nevertheless, the immigration departments in respective Gulf States have direct contact with recruiting agencies and direct hires because they regulate the entry and departure of these workers. In Kuwait and in other states in the Gulf region, the staff for recruiting agencies must be Kuwaiti nationals or respective Gulf citizens as the case might be. However, in most cases this is not the case because nationals from labor-sending states are usually the staffs for majority of these recruiting agencies (International human rights clinic, 2013). Accordingly, these staffs are able to compromise the recruitment processes for personal gains. According to the international human rights clinic (2013), even though recruitment processes for domestic workers are voluntary, the processes are usually full of deceptive practices that include falsified living conditions, wages and employment contracts among other things.    

In the recruitment process, recruiting agencies usually based in the labor-sending countries advertise for vacant positions in the Gulf States. They request interested people to go to their offices and apply for the advertised positions. Once these people apply, recruiting agencies send these applications to their offices in the Gulf region, and from these Gulf offices, interested families in the Gulf region choose their preferred domestic workers from the list provided to them by recruiting agencies. At this point, potential employers select their potential domestic workers based on what they see on the applications forms. In other words, potential employers have the opportunities of selecting the color, age, skill, nationality and religion among other things of their preferred domestic workers. Upon identifying their preferred domestic workers, recruiting agencies help potential employers to acquire the entry permits for these workers from the immigration departments. In some labor-sending states, their embassies in the Gulf region must validate that these people have contracts with their employers before allowing them to travel to the Gulf region (Ozbilgin, & Syed, 2010). Even though some Gulf States allow this process to take place, other states such as UAE do not allow it to take place. Therefore, once potential employers identify their preferred domestic workers, recruiting agencies just make travel arrangements for these workers to travel to the Gulf region.

Mostly, upon arriving in the Gulf region, recruiting agencies usually confiscate the travel documents for domestic workers and they hand them over to their kafeel. In some instances, these recruiting agencies also confiscate the cell phones and other documents belonging to migrant domestic workers. They as well hand them over to the kafeel. The worst thing is that the entry permits that kafeel through recruiting agencies obtain for these workers last for a short period before they expire (HRW, 2007). Therefore, before these entry permits expire, the kafeel must obtain residence visas for their respective domestic workers. By the time this process ends, domestic workers are usually in the hands of their kafeel and they have nothing they can do on their own because labor laws in the Gulf region denies them justice.

Recruitment Cost and Guarantees

In the UAE, the human rights watch (2014) claims that employers usually spend between US$2,500 and US$4,000 in the process of acquiring domestic workers. This cost includes the agencies’ fees, flights, medical tests and entry permit fees. Besides this cost, non-Emirati nationals pay an extra cost of US$1,384. In contrast to this fact, domestic workers usually claim that in most cases they pay some money in form of recruitment fee to their recruiting agencies.

In terms of guarantees, recruiting agencies provide some guarantees to employers. However, these guarantees are not similar in all instances because they depend on what agencies and employers agree. Usually, recruiting agencies will guarantee to replace domestic workers if they are unhealthy or when employers are dissatisfied with them within the first three months of employment. However, majority of the agencies will not guarantee to replace these workers in the incidences these workers run away. With such an understanding, having incurred a huge cost of hiring these workers, employers tend to confine migrant domestic workers in their homes because they do not have guarantee of replacement in case they ran away (Piguet, Pecoud, & Guchteneire, 2011). This exacerbates the working and living conditions for migrant domestic workers in the Gulf region.

Employment Contracts

As a way of ensuring that domestic workers remain in their custody, employers together with recruiting agencies usually have contracts in Arabic for the English-speaking workers. On the other hand, they usually have English contracts for the Arabic-speaking workers. By so doing, majority of the migrant domestic workers end up signing contracts they do not understand. Majority of the migrant domestic workers have testified to the human rights watch group that immediately they arrived in their state of destinations, recruiting agencies made them sign contracts they did not understand. Apart from this, majority of these workers sign impressive contracts before leaving their home countries and are duped to believe that these contracts are enforceable in the Gulf States. These contracts contain high wages and good working conditions (Murray, 2012). However, upon arriving to their states of destinations, recruiting agencies make these workers sign other contracts. These contracts are the ones that employers use in remunerating and dealing with migrant domestic workers. The said contracts contain few protection rights if any and low wages.

Inasmuch as labor-sending countries have their standard contracts for domestic workers back at home, migrant domestic workers have to sign standard contracts in their respective states once they get there. For example, domestic workers making their ways to the UAE must sign a standard UAE contract that among other things does not specify the number of working hours in a day. However, this contract provide eight continuous hours of sleep each day, provides an annual paid holiday of one month and one resting day every week or compensation of the same. On the contrary, this contract gives employers powers of deducting damages of negligence from domestic workers’ salaries; it does not say anything to do with workers’ compensation and overtime payments (Piguet, Pecoud, & Guchteneire, 2011). A similar contract applies in Saudi Arabia and other states in the Gulf. By sign contracts of this nature, the contracts that domestic workers sign back at their home countries and states cease to be enforceable in the Gulf region.

Poor Coordination

Majority of the states in the Gulf region lack proper coordination between them and labor-sending countries because while the states in the Gulf region apply sharia law in their contracts, majority of the labor-sending countries apply ILO’s labor standards. Apart from this, there is always insufficient cooperation between the Gulf States and labor-sending countries. For example, in some instances where labors-sending countries demand for cooperation in developing contracts for domestic workers, some Gulf States such as UAE and Saudi Arabia do not cooperate in developing these contracts. The UAE is in recording of banning embassies from verifying contracts for domestic workers (Roth, & Watch, 2014). This practice undermines the efforts that labor-sending countries put in establishing the minimum standards for their domestic workers working in the UAE and elsewhere.

In some instances, some labor-sending countries have some standards that Gulf States must observe in hiring domestic workers from these countries. These standards relate to minimum wages, working conditions and environment among other issues. For example, in sending domestic workers to the Gulf States, Nepal quotes a minimum wage of US$245; Philippines quote a minimum wage of US$400 while Bangladesh quotes a minimum wage of US$205. India, on the other hand, quotes a minimum wage of US$300 and requires kafeel to pay refundable deposits of US$545 for every domestic worker. The kafeel get their refundable deposit once the Indian authorities confirm they paid their domestic workers salaries in full (Schwenken, 2011). However, even if these are some good measures for protecting domestic workers, once these workers are in the Gulf region, these measures cease to be enforceable and respective states’ measures take over.   

Labor Law Exclusion

Exclusion from Labor Ministry’s Purview and Labor Laws

Majority of the states in the Gulf region do not include domestic workers in their labor laws. Instead, most of them exclude these workers from their labor laws. Saudi Arabia in particular excluded domestic workers from its labor law in 2005 (Human rights watch, 2008). By excluding domestic workers from the labor laws, it means that these people do not enjoy protection from the states. In addition, it means that domestic workers do not have the limit of hours they should work each day. It also means that they do not have leave days and they cannot take their employers to the courts of law. Some states in the Gulf region such as Bahrain and Kuwait have expressed their interest of either banning or overhauling the kafala labor system in the near future, but they are yet to do it (Roper, & Barria, 2014). Nevertheless, other states such as Qatar have indicated that they are not willing to either ban or overhaul the kafala system.

In the UAE, article 3(c) of the labor law excludes domestic workers from the labor law by stating that this article does not apply to them. By excluding domestic workers from the labor law, the ministry of labor regulates domestic workers. This practice is also applicable in Saudi Arabia and in many other Gulf States. The practice intends to deny domestic workers protection negotiated under protective memoranda of understanding between Gulf States and their countries of origin. While the ministries of labor regulate migrant domestic workers, they exclude these workers from labor regulations that apply to other labor sectors. Accordingly, the ministries of labor in the Gulf region cannot impose fines on employers that allow recruiting agencies to charge recruiting fee on domestic workers. As such, when recruiting agencies voluntarily charge recruiting fees from domestic workers, the ministries of labor do not protect these workers from such practices (HRW, 2014). At the same time, the ministries of labor exclude domestic workers from the practices of non-payment of salaries. Such protection applies to registered private companies only. As a result, employers may pay or not pay domestic workers because these workers cannot take any legal action against them.          

Draft Law

The Gulf States adopted a unified draft law on domestic workers back in 2013, but some states are yet to implement it. The states that are yet to implement the unified draft law are still using their old draft laws when addressing themselves to migrant domestic workers. This notwithstanding, the draft law in question does not address some challenges that face domestic workers and the few ones it addresses, it does not address them in totality (Migrant rights, 2014).

The unified draft law gives domestic workers a one resting day each week or two resting days in case these workers perform their duties for two weeks without resting. The same law makes it illegal for employers to confiscate employees’ passports. In other words, the draft law gives migrant domestic workers the rights of keeping their passports. With regard to salaries, article 12 requires employers to transfer salaries to employees’ bank accounts or give cash to them and provide them with receipts of the same. Apart from this, the draft law requires employers to provide these workers with food, clothes, accommodation, return plane tickets and visa charges (Migrant rights, 2014). Nevertheless, even if the draft law requires employers to do this, the law does not provide a proactive method of implementing this provision; thus, it is usually at the disposal of employers to implement it the way they like it.

The draft law provides both the employers and employees with powers of cancelling the contract within the first three months. This provision acknowledges the existence of misleading employment contracts; thus, allows domestic workers to cancel such contracts. In case the contract expires, employers can renew the contract if their workers do not object it.

On the other hand, the draft law regulates domestic workers’ behaviors by illegalizing the act of breaching employers’ privacy; holding these workers liable for the damages they may cause in the households and makes it illegal for these workers to enter other states in the region in case they violate the law in one state. This draft law is an exemplary one, but the Gulf States do not implement it and if they implement it, they do not enforce it (Migrant rights, 2014). For this reason, migrant domestic workers continue to suffer in the region as the state governments watch them suffer.   

Abuses against Domestic Workers

While some domestic workers find responsible employers that pay them well and on regular basis, other workers find quite different employers that do not pay them, and if they pay them, they do not do it regularly. In extreme cases, these workers find employers that apart from failing to pay them; they abuse them both physically and psychologically.  

Wage Abuses

In most cases, majority employers in domestic sector do not pay their workers in the Gulf region. Some government officials from the Gulf States as well as diplomats coming from labor-sending states acknowledge that underpayment and non-payment issues are among the major abuses for domestic workers in the Gulf region. An interview with the human rights watch 2010 revealed that majority of migrant domestic workers received lower wages than the amount their recruiting agents back at their home countries promised them. Majority of the interviewees claimed that their recruiting agencies forced them to sign other contracts in languages they did not understand once they arrived in the Gulf States (HRW, 2014). Upon signing new contracts, the salaries went down by half or even more.  

Passport Confiscation

Passport confiscation problem is a widespread abuse among the migrant domestic workers in the Gulf region. As a way of acknowledging that employers in collaboration with recruiting agencies confiscate passports and other travel documents for their domestic workers, the international human rights clinic (2013) claims that employers incur huge expenses in the process of getting these workers. Accordingly, employers are usually unwilling to lose these workers without recovering their money and meeting their domestic needs. With regard to this issue, recruiting agencies help employers to confiscate passports immediately domestic workers land in the Gulf region. Whether for good or bad reasons, employers end up retaining these passports.

Right now, majority of the migrant domestic workers do not have their passports and other travel documents thereby they cannot travel back to their home countries even when they need to do it for other reasons other than running away. The kafala system facilitates the persistence of this practice by holding kafeel responsible for workers that transfer their jobs. One might argue that kafala system does not facilitate the persistence of passport confiscation practice. However, in making this argument one should remember that the system requires employers to hand in the passports for the workers that transfer jobs to the ministries of labor (Sonmez et al., 2011). By understanding this, one would acknowledge the fact that the system enhances the practice of confiscating passports.

Restricted Communication

In terms of communicating, domestic workers may or may not communicate with their members of families. It is worth noting that in some instances employers confiscate their cell phones as they confiscate other valuable goods as well. This does not only leave domestic workers without cell phones, but it also leaves them without vital contacts with the members of their families. For some exploitive employers, the contact between domestic workers and the members of their families ends once they confiscate their cell phones. However, some employers allow these workers to communicate with their friends within the states of their residence, but not outside the states in question. In this case, employers may not allow domestic workers to make international calls with their home telephones. In some instances, domestic workers do not communicate with anyone (Sonmez et al., 2011).

Confinement and Isolation

Forced confinement and isolation are common as well in the Gulf States because employers fear that they might lose these people if they do not confine them. Confinement in this case refers to acts of detaining domestic works within homes or within designated areas. The intention of doing this is to limit their movement as well as deny them contact with other people. According to the human rights watch (2014), nine women reported that their employers locked them in their houses in the UAE. Other five workers reported that employers locked them in their homes, but still ordered security guards to watch them regularly. The incidences are the same in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the region. One domestic worker in Saudi Arabia told the human rights watch that she remained in the house for all the days she was working in a certain home. According to her, the employer locked her in the house and kept the key himself.

Verbal Abuses

Verbal abuses are among the most common abuses among domestic workers in the Gulf region. The international human right clinic (2013) claims that cultural differences exacerbate this abuse because while yelling and raising voices are not abuses in the Gulf region, they are abuses in some labor-sending countries such as Philippines. A study conducted by the human rights watch early this year revealed that majority of domestic workers in UAE were at one time or another insulted by their employers or any other member of the family. In addition, they were either humiliated or threatened verbally.

Physical and Psychological Abuses

In terms of physical and psychological abuses, majority of the migrant domestic workers in the Gulf States claim that their employers beat them, insult them and deliberately burn them with hot irons. In some instances, employers shave their heads to humiliate them and even threaten to kill them.

On the other hand, sexual harassment is among the most common physical abuses in the Gulf States for domestic workers. However, this abuse goes unreported because general practices and customs in this region do not allow domestic workers to report such abuses. Accordingly, when this abuse takes place, it remains a family matter; thus, it is contained within the family. According to Murray (2012), thirty percent of Bahraini domestic workers experience sexual abuses, but Bahraini customs and practices hinder these workers from reporting such incidences. Police in particular are reluctant to follow up sexual abuses when domestic workers report these incidences in Bahrain. Though sexual harassment is punishable in Qatar, in 2006, the victims reported eight incidences only in the entire state and of these incidences only five of them resulted in conviction. This demonstrates how Gulf region takes sexual harassment lightly.

While domestic workers rarely report cases of rapes, attempted rapes and sexual harassment to police forces for fear of prosecution for adultery, fornication and moral misconduct, migrant domestic workers mostly report incidences of overworking. Majority of them claim that they work for between fifteen to twenty hours a day, and as they work for these long hours, their employers do not pay them overtime. Instead, they underpay them or even never pay them at all. Typically, these workers rest for one hour a day or even never rest at all. To make the matter worse, workloads are usually more during the Ramadan to an extent that these workers perform their duties even when they are sick. In some instances, majority of these workers do not access health care when sick or injured (Sonmez et al., 2011). Furthermore, some workers claim that in spite of working in big houses that have many living rooms, they live in stores and bathrooms. This means that majority of these workers do not live in good conditions.

Minimum Wages

Current literature indicates that domestic workers in the Gulf region do not have a minimum wage. Murray (2012) claims that these workers earn less than thirty percent of the Gulf States’ average wage. He also claims that in Bahrain they earn about twenty percent of what average workers earn. In 2010, the minimum wage of private workers in Kuwait rose to US$210. However, this minimum wage does not apply to domestic workers. Oman equally has a minimum wage for its citizens, but it does not have a minimum wage for foreigner workers including domestic workers. In the UAE, only employees with a minimum of secondary education have a minimum wage rate. In spite of the fact that domestic workers in this state must have this level of education, labor laws exclude these workers from enjoying this right (Murray, 2012). Based on this fact, domestic workers in the Gulf region earn in most cases less than the minimum wages set in the region.          

Lack of Shelter and Support for Abused Domestic Workers

Given the harsh working conditions, majority of the migrant domestic workers in the Gulf region tend to flee from their workstations in search of safe places to hide as they wait to go back to their home countries. However, because the labor law does not protect these workers, most of them end up in bad places. Majority of these workers tend to look for protection or shelter from their recruiting agencies that served them immediately they landed in the Gulf region. Though some of these recruiting agencies help these workers and probably provide shelter to them, some agencies abuse them and even threaten to report them to their employers and police (HRW, 2014). In reality, recruiting agencies do not have facilities for providing shelter to domestic workers, and in most cases, they enjoy some financial incentives when they assist in taking domestic workers back to their abusive employers. On the other hand, though there are non-profit protection facilities in the Gulf region for trafficking and domestic violence survivors, these facilities have no responsibilities of providing shelter to migrant domestic workers. In fact, there are no protection facilities for migrant domestic workers fleeing from abusive employers (HRW, 2007). However, these workers can turn to their embassies and consulates for help, but majority of the embassies and consulates do not have facilities to offer shelter. As a result, majority of migrant domestic workers that flee their workstations lack shelter in the Gulf region.  

Charges and Penalties against Domestic Workers

In case domestic workers change their employers without obtaining written permissions from them, their employers should prosecute them in courts of law for absconding their duties. Employers should do this because they must ensure that once domestic workers’ contracts terminate these workers return to their countries of origin without fail. If employers do not do this, then their state governments may prosecute them. In order to avoid such an issue, employers usually prosecute migrant domestic workers that transfer their employments without obtaining written permissions from them (Roth, & Watch, 2014). Although this practice ensures that migrant domestic workers remain in the custody of their kafeel, the practice exposes domestic workers to abuses and exploitation from their employers. As indicated earlier on, employers may also file other criminal charges against their workers. Such criminal charges include breach of privacy and household damages. All these criminal charges aim at intimidating domestic workers or sending them to jails. 

Barriers to Redress

Inasmuch as domestic workers in the Gulf States would wish to seek redress to their problems, they might not be able to do it because of the following reasons. First, the labor laws in the Gulf States deny them protection against their employers. In particular, they deny them certain privileges that other migrant workers enjoy and where they provide those privileges, the same laws in a way take them away. For example, even though some state laws provide these workers with a minimum eight hours of sleep each day, the same laws do not outline the number of hours these workers should work each day (Hepburn, & Simon, 2013). Based on this fact, even though these workers would wish to hire lawyers to represent them in the courts of law, it would be difficult for them to support their cases and win them.

Second, given that majority of these workers rarely receive salaries from their employers then it would be hard for them to hire lawyers because they lack the financial capacity to do it. Third, given the nature of the labor laws in the Gulf region, the legal proceedings might be lengthy. This means that even if domestic workers might be able to hire lawyers, they might not be able to sustain them through these lengthy proceedings. Fourth, the issue of language is also another factor that hampers the redress processes (Begum, 2014). With regard to this issue, majority of the migrant domestic workers in the Gulf region cannot write or read Arabic language, which is the official language in the region even though they understand English. This being the case, if these workers were to redress their problems, they would need language interpreters. This would be costly for them bearing in the mind the little money they earn and that some of them even go without it. These four challenges hamper the redress processes.   


In order to address the challenges that migrant domestic workers face in the Gulf region, there is need to reform the kafala system that appears to be the genesis of all these problems. In making this recommendation, the author of this paper acknowledges the fact that the initial objective of introducing this labor system was good, but it is no longer sustainable because employers misuse it. Therefore, the author recommends that other than abolishing the kafala system as some authors claim, it would be recommendable to retain it, but do the following.  

First, the state governments should amend the articles that give employers control over the immigration status of their workers. Amending these articles would reduce the excessive powers that employers appear to have over their migrant domestic workers. Such an amendment would require employers together with recruiting agencies to help migrant domestic workers acquire the necessary permit documents for staying in the states until their contracts expire (Briones, 2009). It would also require the workers to stay in the states until their contracts expire. By so doing, employers would stop confiscating passports and mistreating domestic workers.  

Second, this research paper has established that even though some Gulf States have been reforming their labor systems, these states have not been doing anything tangible to enforce the changes they make. Murray (2012) in particular points out that even though Jordan leads in the process of reforming labor systems in the Gulf region, the state does not make any effort to enforce the changes. In relation to this issue, the human rights watch feels that extending protection to domestic workers without ensuring that there are efficient mechanisms of enforcing the same does not help in eradicating the challenges facing these workers. With respect to this understanding, this paper recommends that once the Gulf States reform the kafala system, they should establish some mechanisms that would enforce those reforms. Such measures would include providing compulsory orientations to employers and domestic workers about the new changes once the states make them. Another measure would include training labor inspectors how to monitor the implementation of reforms once established to ensure that both employers and domestic workers follow those reforms. Other measures would include introducing incentives for enhancing best practices in the recruitment processes (Downey, 2014). 

Third, the Gulf States should make labor laws that protect domestic workers from their employers. Unlike the former changes in the labor laws, such laws should not exclude these workers from enjoying the rights that other migrant workers enjoy in the Gulf region and elsewhere. In particular, those laws should define the number of hours that domestic workers should work and rest in a day. In making this recommendation, the author understands that in some states the rest hours are eight hours of sleep. However, these states have not defined the hours that domestic workers should work in a day; thus, the assumption by employers has been that they should work for fifteen hours each day (Fernandez, 2014). In order to address this misconception, this paper recommends that state governments should establish definite working hours for domestic workers as they have done for other workers. At the same time, the state governments should also include the minimum wage for these workers among other things.

Fourth, after defining what should constitute domestic work, the state governments should define the relationship that should be there between domestic workers and their employers. Afterwards, the state governments should follow the implementation of these laws to ensure that employers do not violate them as they have been doing in the past. In making this recommendation, the author is aware that there are some national laws that somewhat protect domestic workers, but the state governments do not ensure that employers flow them strictly. For this reason, majority of the employers have been violating the states’ labor laws that protect domestic workers because the state governments do not enforce them (Hansen, Koehler, & Money, 2012). With respect to this understanding, the state governments should probe this issue, prosecute and punish employers that violate the existing labor laws.

Fifth, given that migrant domestic workers do not have the financial capacity to prosecute employers that violate their rights, the state governments should allow these workers to transfer the powers of attorney to their embassies. In this case, the embassies would help in prosecuting employers that abuse and exploit these workers; thus, reduce the incidences of abuse and exploitation in the region. Once again, in making this recommendation, the author understands that some states like UAE frustrate such acts (Begum, 2014). In contrast to such a practice, state governments should allow it to reduce the incidences of abuses and exploitations on domestic workers by their employers.    


Given that majority of employers in the Gulf region abuse and exploit migrant domestic workers, then the international community should play a critical role in ensuring that these practices stop immediately. The international community should condemn these practices with all terms possible and where possible take actions that would help in eradicating the abuses and exploitations in the region. This far, the human rights watch has been doing a commendable job of investigating and publishing articles that condemn these practices. However, the fight is not over because migrant domestic workers are still suffering in the region silently waiting for someone to rescue them. This paper investigates the abuses and exploitations that migrant domestic workers in the region go through and makes some recommendations that would help in ending the same. The author hopes that something will happen soon to end these abuses and exploitations.


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