Sri Lankan activists protest in Colombo after Rizana Nafeek, a domestic worker, was executed in Saudi Arabia. A new study has brought to light the hardship many domestic workers face in the Gulf. Ishara S Kodikara / AFP
Sri Lankan activists protest in Colombo after Rizana Nafeek, a domestic worker, was executed in Saudi Arabia. A new study has brought to light the hardship many domestic workers face in the Gulf. IshaShow more

'Some domestic workers work up to 100 hours a week'



Saudi Arabia's execution of a Sri Lankan domestic worker for murder earlier this week sparked an international outcry about migrant rights in the Gulf: advocacy groups argued she was under 18 at the time of the alleged crime, had little access to legal counsel, and confessed under physical duress.

But for many domestics in the region, the challenges are more common and more banal, starting with the number of hours they work. Domestic workers in Saudi Arabia and Qatar work 63.7 and 60 hours per week on average respectively, according to a study on domestic workers worldwide released by the International Labour Organization (ILO) this week.

Domestic workers in these countries put in longer hours than employees in any other profession - a finding that experts say extends throughout the Gulf.

"Working hours are indeed well above 60 hours, more like a 100," said Antoinette Vlieger, a researcher at the University of Amsterdam who has conducted extensive fieldwork on domestic workers in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

"During Ramadan this becomes even worse and many domestic workers run away during Ramadan, simply because they are exhausted. ... The shelters of the embassies are totally overcrowded."

Rima Sabban, a professor of sociology at Zayed University in Dubai, whose studies on domestic workers in the UAE were cited in the ILO report, said for domestics in the region "the most critical issue is the hours they work".

Long hours for domestic workers are not only a problem in the Gulf. In Malaysia, they work an average of 65 hours per week, the ILO report found, and employees in countries as diverse as Tanzania and Bolivia also all post long work weeks.

There are, however, legal and logistical realities in the Gulf that make working conditions more difficult to regulate.

Most pointedly, domestic workers are migrant labourers based on the so-called kafala system, a legal regime that ties their visa to their employment with a given household.

The kafala system, based a regional traditional of hospitality "is supposed to be a good system that makes it incumbent upon nationals to look after non-nationals", explained Azfar Khan, senior regional migration specialist at the ILO's Regional Office for the Arab States. But the arrangement also gives disproportionate control to employers to set the working conditions, he said. "An employer can control the worker's working time, wages, and all aspects of their life. That can lead to situations of forced labour."

The arrangement also means that domestic workers often have little redress for exploitative conditions, said Ellene Sana, head of the Centre for Migration Advocacy in The Philippines.

"Many domestic workers who have been abused and exploited by their own employers would hesitate to file charges against their employers because their exit visas from the [Gulf countries] will also be issued by the same employer," she said.

Mr Khan said that Gulf countries are working to find ways to improve conditions. Earlier this year, for example, Bahrain became the first Gulf country to offer partial protection under the labour code.

In 2012, the UAE introduced a standardised contract for domestic workers and employers that stipulates the basic rights and responsibilities of both parties. Ms Sabban said that this has helped establish norms.

But Ms Sana in the Philippines pointed to a need for societal change.

"Almost everyone is a potential employer of a domestic worker," she said. "Do we give domestic workers under our employment their due wages, benefits and other entitlements? Suddenly, the issue is so close, too personal that addressing it means addressing ourselves too."

edickinson@thenational.ae

COMPANY PROFILE

Name: Haltia.ai
Started: 2023
Co-founders: Arto Bendiken and Talal Thabet
Based: Dubai, UAE
Industry: AI
Number of employees: 41
Funding: About $1.7 million
Investors: Self, family and friends

Recipe

Garlicky shrimp in olive oil
Gambas Al Ajillo

Preparation time: 5 to 10 minutes

Cooking time: 5 minutes

Serves 4

Ingredients

180ml extra virgin olive oil; 4 to 5 large cloves of garlic, minced or pureed (or 3 to 4 garlic scapes, roughly chopped); 1 or 2 small hot red chillies, dried (or ¼ teaspoon dried red chilli flakes); 400g raw prawns, deveined, heads removed and tails left intact; a generous splash of sweet chilli vinegar; sea salt flakes for seasoning; a small handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

Method

Heat the oil in a terracotta dish or frying pan. Once the oil is sizzling hot, add the garlic and chilli, stirring continuously for about 10 seconds until golden and aromatic.

Add a splash of sweet chilli vinegar and as it vigorously simmers, releasing perfumed aromas, add the prawns and cook, stirring a few times.

Once the prawns turn pink, after 1 or 2 minutes of cooking, remove from the heat and season with sea salt flakes.

Once the prawns are cool enough to eat, scatter with parsley and serve with small forks or toothpicks as the perfect sharing starter. Finish off with crusty bread to soak up all that flavour-infused olive oil.

Retirement funds heavily invested in equities at a risky time

Pension funds in growing economies in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East have a sharply higher percentage of assets parked in stocks, just at a time when trade tensions threaten to derail markets.

Retirement money managers in 14 geographies now allocate 40 per cent of their assets to equities, an 8 percentage-point climb over the past five years, according to a Mercer survey released last week that canvassed government, corporate and mandatory pension funds with almost $5 trillion in assets under management. That compares with about 25 per cent for pension funds in Europe.

The escalating trade spat between the US and China has heightened fears that stocks are ripe for a downturn. With tensions mounting and outcomes driven more by politics than economics, the S&P 500 Index will be on course for a “full-scale bear market” without Federal Reserve interest-rate cuts, Citigroup’s global macro strategy team said earlier this week.

The increased allocation to equities by growth-market pension funds has come at the expense of fixed-income investments, which declined 11 percentage points over the five years, according to the survey.

Hong Kong funds have the highest exposure to equities at 66 per cent, although that’s been relatively stable over the period. Japan’s equity allocation jumped 13 percentage points while South Korea’s increased 8 percentage points.

The money managers are also directing a higher portion of their funds to assets outside of their home countries. On average, foreign stocks now account for 49 per cent of respondents’ equity investments, 4 percentage points higher than five years ago, while foreign fixed-income exposure climbed 7 percentage points to 23 per cent. Funds in Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and Taiwan are among those seeking greater diversification in stocks and fixed income.

• Bloomberg

First-round leaderbaord

-5 C Conners (Can)

-3 B Koepka (US), K Bradley (US), V Hovland (Nor), A Wise (US), S Horsfield (Eng), C Davis (Aus);

-2 C Morikawa (US), M Laird (Sco), C Tringale (US)

Selected others: -1 P Casey (Eng), R Fowler (US), T Hatton (Eng)

Level B DeChambeau (US), J Rose (Eng) 

+1 L Westwood (Eng), J Spieth (US)

+3 R McIlroy (NI)

+4 D Johnson (US)

ICC Awards for 2021+

MEN

Cricketer of the Year+– Shaheen Afridi+(Pakistan)

T20 Cricketer of the Year+– Mohammad Rizwan+(Pakistan)

ODI Cricketer of the Year+– Babar Azam+(Pakistan)

Test Cricketer of the Year+– Joe Root+(England)

WOMEN

Cricketer of the Year+– Smriti Mandhana+(India)

ODI Cricketer of the Year+– Lizelle Lee+(South Africa)

T20 Cricketer of the Year+– Tammy Beaumont+(England)

COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Almouneer
Started: 2017
Founders: Dr Noha Khater and Rania Kadry
Based: Egypt
Number of staff: 120
Investment: Bootstrapped, with support from Insead and Egyptian government, seed round of
$3.6 million led by Global Ventures