Domestic workers still face 'abuse and fraud' in the Middle East says leading UN body

International Labour Organisation says millions of foreign workers play key role in caring for families

Members of the Filipino community working and residing in Kuwait attend a meeting with their country's Labour Department Undersecretary for Workers Protection, Human Resource, and Internal Auditing Services Cluster, at the Philippines' Embassy in Kuwait City, on February 24, 2018.
The employers of the murdered 29-year-old Filipina maid Joanna Demafelis, whose body was found dead in a freezer in Kuwait, were both arrested in the Syrian capital Damascus, a Lebanese judicial official said on February 24.
The murder had sparked outrage in the Philippines and prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to impose a departure ban for Filipinos planning to work in Kuwait. / AFP PHOTO / YASSER AL-ZAYYAT
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More needs to be done to prevent the exploitation and abuse of domestic workers in the Middle East, a new United Nations report warns.

While the rights of conditions of home workers in the region have much improved in recent years, the “implementation and enforcement remain major challenges, and continuing and credible allegations of abuse and fraudulent behaviour continue to plague the sector,” the International Labour Organisation said on Thursday.

The ILO says that better rights and conditions for domestic workers will benefit all involved, included the relationship with the families who employ them.

The murder of a Filipina maid whose body was found in a freezer in Kuwait last month sparked outrage and prompted renewed debate about labour rights.

“Employers’ and domestic workers’ needs are not necessarily in conflict,” said Ruba Jaradat, the ILO's regional director for Arab States.

“Rather both parties call for transparency in the recruitment process, amendments and clarifications on the conditions of sponsorship, better quality skills development and job matching, and streamlined systems of dispute resolution.”


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The UN body says domestic workers play a “pivotal role” in Arab society, that goes well beyond cleaning and cooking.

“Modern households are increasingly expecting domestic workers to support the care of children during critical stages of development, aid the elderly to live with increased autonomy, and assist in chores and household management. “

It estimates that nearly one in five of the world’s migrant domestic workers live in the Middle East, a total of 3.16 million people of which 1.6 are women – although the ILO says this may be a conservative estimate.

“Important progress has been made over the last few years by a number of countries in the Middle East towards legislative change to protect migrant workers,” the ILO notes.

“Yet implementation and enforcement remain major challenges, and continuing and credible allegations of abuse and fraudulent behaviour continue to plague the sector.”

Existing laws are often not followed, the organisation says, pointing to its survey of employer attitudes in Lebanon, Jordan and Kuwait, where it says there is “a significant degree of misinformation and noncompliance with existing laws and regulations".

“The studies also revealed tensions between the expectations of workers and employers, and mismatches of skills, which remain largely unaddressed,” the ILO adds.

The organisation says it will support governments in reforming the system.

It adds: “Much more can be done to ensure that there is better understanding between the two parties, and better systems of compliance, ultimately resulting in more harmonious and productive working relationships.”

The report concludes that: “Given the rapidly increasing ageing population in the Arab States, and the need to ensure that early childhood education provides the foundation for a skilled national workforce, reassessing the way that the domestic work sector is regulated is an important policy priority."