Domestics, employers need proper training
By : Sabria S. Jawhar
A couple of incidents reported in the Saudi media recently seem to indicate the Ministry of Labor needs a lot of work to minimize the abuse of maids while at the same time protect Saudi families from unqualified or even mentally unstable employees.
Last week a Saudi woman in Riyadh allegedly poured hot water on the back and thighs of her 23-year-old maid because the worker was not fast enough in making coffee. The maid reported that her employer had beaten her within five days of her arrival in the country. She had also been deprived of food.
In another incident, a maid inflicted first-degree burns by pouring hot cooking oil on a Saudi man, his wife and their two children. The parents were reported in critical condition while the children escaped serious injuries.
The Labor Ministry has done much good in the past year to weed out illegal workers and send them home. It also has beefed up its requirements to ensure domestic workers are aware of their rights. Yet domestic workers’ abuse and attacks on Saudi families continue. There are no checks and balances to ensure the Saudi government and their counterparts in foreign countries verify the age and physical and mental health of domestic servants obtaining a visa to work in Saudi Arabia. Criminal background checks are almost non-existent.
What’s interesting, if not negligent, is the fact that Saudi families have decided that unlike their parents and grandparents, they can’t live without a housemaid and are willing to risk the safety of their children to bring a stranger into their home without adequate background checks.
I can’t think of a job more stressful for an uneducated village girl who can’t speak Arabic to care for a child when they haven’t even been trained to use a washing machine or dishwasher. It is especially difficult, if not dangerous, for a housemaid to be asked to care for a special needs child suffering from a physical or mental disability.
But there you have it; families who think that housemaids can be jack-of-all-trades when they have not shown they are capable of mastering even one skill.
Young women with no training leave their country and families for the first time to live in an ultra-conservative society where they are expected to work 24 hours, not communicate with relatives, have few days off and are expected to carry out commands in a language they don’t understand.
It begs the question of what happened to the loving and merciful Saudi society where our mothers and grandmothers never gave a thought to hiring maids because it was their job to run the house.
Mothers and mothers-in-law took care of the children so the younger mothers can take care of the house. If external help was needed it was in a form of a relative or a neighbor who can spare some hours of help in return of some financial reward.
We once were a more family-oriented society. In many ways we have turned into this strange and cruel society that cannot live without a whole army of servants. The demands of modern life have turned our society upside down as more women are seeking jobs. We are sharing the same burdens as families in other countries. The only difference is that in other countries, wives and husbands are sharing responsibilities and use daycare centers to help working mothers and give them peace of mind knowing that their children are in good hands while they contribute to the family financially.
But in Saudi Arabia, the mother is still expected to work and carry her traditional duty as the only caregiver in the family. Husbands rarely participate or share responsibilities. Daycare centers for working mothers are still at the bottom of our interests despite the increasing need.
All of this makes women more desperate for help and puts them under immense pressure to hire unqualified or even illegal maids and trust them to families without close supervision.
At the end of the day, housemaids are not nannies and nannies are not maids. Domestic servants’ working hours must be regulated and strictly implemented. Families should attend classes about treating domestic workers to educate them that they do not have a master/slave relationship with their employees. Abusive families should be held legally accountable and be deprived from the privilege of importing external help by being blacklisted in a national database.
Newly graduate and unemployed students should be encouraged to team up and open their own nurseries or daycare centers as a small business. Special centers for new maids should be opened to train over a minimum of three months on what does it mean to work for a Saudi family and to teach them some commands in Arabic. This way we can solve the problem of maids working as nannies and to educate Saudis about the definition of abuse.