Saudi Arabia moves to protect rights of Indonesian maids

Image source, AFP
Image caption, Indonesia's government has been pushing for the guarantees for four years

Saudi Arabia has signed an agreement with Indonesia aimed at protecting the rights of Indonesian maids in the country following allegations of abuse.

The domestic workers will no longer be deprived of their passports nor prevented from communicating with the outside world.

They will also be guaranteed the payment of a monthly wage and time off.

Indonesia's government will wait to see how the agreement is implemented before allowing recruitment to continue.

It has been pushing for the guarantees for four years following of allegations of overwork, forced confinement, non-payment of wages, food deprivation, and psychological and sexual abuse.

Workers who attempted to report employer abuses have sometimes faced prosecution based on counter-claims of theft or "sorcery".

Earlier this month, King Abdullah pardoned an Indonesian maid who was sentenced to death in 2003 after being convicted of witchcraft.

'Price hikes'

According to Saudi media, the agreement signed on Wednesday also commits the Indonesian authorities to ensuring that prospective maids have had medical check-ups and have not been involved in any crimes.

The Saudi Deputy Minister for Labour Affairs, Ahmed al-Fehaid, said last week that the accord did not cover pay rises or fees, but that he was "committed to offering more options to Saudis to prevent a price hike".

In July, the Saudi cabinet passed a new regulation governing the treatment of the 1.5 million migrant domestic workers in the Gulf kingdom.

The regulation offers certain basic protections for the first time, such as requiring a nine-hour daily break, prompt salary payment at the end of each month, sick leave, and a one-month paid vacation every two years. It also prohibits sponsors from assigning work harmful to their health.

However, the regulation also states that workers must respect the teachings of Islam and carry out their duties "perfectly". They are also expected the "obey the employer", preserve family secrets, and not to "reject work or leave the job without any genuine reason".

In November, following a seven-month "grace period", the Saudi authorities began deporting foreign workers considered to be residing in the country illegally or violating local labour laws. By 21 January, more than 250,000 people had been forced to leave.

On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch reported that more than 12,000 people had been deported to Somalia since 1 January, including hundreds of women and children, none of whom had been allowed to make refugee claims.

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