Saudi Arabia has passed a new law that protects the rights of domestic workers as well as contain provisions that favour employers.
The new piece of legislation attempts to reconcile the rights of around two million domestic workers and their employers. Under its provisions, workers — including maids and drivers — are now legally entitled to nine hours of free time daily, a salary at the end of every month, sick leave, and a one-month paid vacation every two years. Additionally, employers are prohibited from asking workers to undertake tasks that are outside the contract or could harm their health.
“The law aims at regulating the relationship between domestic help and their employers while explaining their rights and duties and punishment for violators of contract terms,” said Labour Minister Adel Fakeih, according to the Saudi daily Arab News.
However, the law has a number of elements that are unlikely to meet the benchmarks of international labour law and human rights. For instance, it restricts the mobility of workers in that they “will not have the right to reject a work or leave the job without any genuine reason”. The employees are also expected to obey the employer and his family members, protect their property and not harm children or the elderly. The workers are obliged “to respect the teachings of Islam, the Kingdom’s rules and regulations, and carry out their duties perfectly,” Arab News reported.
The controversial treatment of domestic workers in Saudi Arabia — many have faced the death penalty in recent months — has made international headlines. An Indonesian woman was sentenced to death in March following her conviction for murdering a four-year old girl. Last October, Rizana Nafeek, a young Sri Lankan, was beheaded for allegedly killing an infant in her care in 2005. Rights groups had slammed the punishment as Nafeek was a minor at the time of the infant’s death.
Employers who break the new law will be fined $533 (Rs.31,585) and face a one-year ban on recruiting domestic help. Three instances of breaking the law will earn an employer a life-time ban and a fine of $2,600 (Rs.1,54,176) .
On the other hand, workers violating the contract would be fined $533, banned from working in the Kingdom, and have to bear the cost of repatriation to their home countries.
The latest law on domestic workers is part of the Saudi Arabia’s energetic drive, in the wake of the Arab Spring, to re-define its labour laws with a view to providing more jobs to its youth. Following the recent Nitaqat law — which reserves 10 per cent of jobs for Saudi nationals in any private enterprise — expatriate workers who have lost their employment have been allowed to either shift to new jobs or leave the country.
Local media reports say as many as four million expatriate workers have regularised their documents after the passage of the Nitaqat law. Of this number, 1.18 million have either found new jobs or renewed their work permits.
“As many as 1.12 million expats [had] corrected their professions [as on] July 6. We have also issued and renewed more than 1.6 million work permits during the period,” Abdullah Abuthnain, Deputy Minister for Inspections was quoted as saying. Among expatriate workers, around 90,000 Indians have contacted the embassy to get their documents regularised. Another 65,000 persons seeking exit from the country have collected their travel documents from the mission.
Mr. Abuthnain said foreigners could change their professions using the ministry’s electronic services, free-of-charge, without visiting its office. The Kingdom has extended the grace period by four months to November 3, within which foreign workers can either regularise their documents or leave the country, without incurring a penalty.