GMANews.TVWhile Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council has passed a bill that would improve the condition of an estimated 1.5 million domestic workers in the country, an international rights group said the measure still falls short of international standards.
Under current Saudi labor laws, domestic workers are denied their rights as workers, such as weekly day of rest, work hour limits, and overtime pay, a 2008 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report said.
The report documented how domestic workers in Saudi Arabia reportedly worked 18 hours a day, seven days a week, and had “little power" to collect owed wages in labor disputes.
It said excessive workloads and unpaid wages, for periods ranging from a few months to 10 years, were among the most common complaints.
In addition, the New York-based rights watchdog found that many domestic workers were restricted to their workplaces, sometimes locked in and forbidden to leave.
But according to the HRW, a bill recently passed in Saudi Arabia would require employers to give domestic workers at least nine hours of rest every day, rest breaks, and “suitable" accommodation.
“The Shura Council finally ended its paralysis on these desperately needed protections," said Nisha Varia, deputy director of the HRW’s Women’s Rights Division, in a statement.
However, the group said the bill contains “vague" provisions that would make workers vulnerable to abuse.
As proof, the HRW cited the provisions that would require a worker to obey the employers’ orders and prohibit him or her from leaving the place of employment without a “legitimate reason."
It added that an additional burden is Saudi Arabia’s restrictive kafala (sponsorship) system, which ties the visas of migrant workers to their employers, preventing workers from changing jobs or from leaving the kingdom.
Varia said the good news is that the Cabinet can still make further changes on the bill passed by the Shura Council, an appointed consultative body, before it is enacted into law.
“Now the king and the Cabinet need to remove the flawed provisions and make sure the final law can stand up to international scrutiny. Comprehensive reforms in immigration policies and police response to violence against domestic workers are also necessary," she said.
Data from the HRW said that approximately 1.5 million women from countries like Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines are employed as domestic workers in Saudi Arabia.
According to the Commission on Filipinos Overseas, there were more than one million Filipinos in Saudi Arabia in 2007, making it the top destination for overseas Filipino workers (OFW). - Kimberly Jane T. Tan, GMANews.TV