Saudi Arabia: Is the Slavery Trade Back?

The crisis of African migrant workers in Saudi Arabia has not yet been resolved, however, other no less horrific problems have emerged about the continued suffering of Filipino domestic workers at the hands of employers and recruitment agencies despite the Saudi regime’s claims to improve labor law and conditions for workers and migrants.

In practice, a large number of Filipino domestic workers are imprisoned, as they are now housed in a shelter for migrant and distressed workers who were subjected to violence and harassment by their employers, yet they are deprived of food, movement, or exercise of any of the basic rights.

Some workers told the International Labor Organization that the degrading and inhuman treatment they are subjected to by recruitment agencies in temporary shelters aims to force them to return to work, despite the abusive and exploitative practices by the homeowners they work for.

About 9,000 refugees are now languishing in various shelters for migrants, and they are among the 24,000 Filipinos suffering from poor conditions in Saudi Arabia, but none of them benefited from the government’s repatriation program.

More than 10 years ago, the International Labor Organization adopted the Domestic Workers Convention, in which workers thought their lives would change for the better and that working conditions would improve under the implementation of this convention, which pledged to guarantee “decent work” for workers, but it appears to be just words on paper.

In one of the testimonies of an anonymous woman who feared being harmed by her employer. She spoke about the horrors she witnessed during her work, the simplest of which was the constant exposure to sexual harassment by the owner of the house who tried to assault her by force before she escaped to the “children’s” room, and when he tried again, she left the house for good.

Another worker spoke about the inhumane conditions during her stay in the house of a Saudi, who are supported by the current system that does not respect any employment rights. She talked about her lack of food due to the work that never ends, sleep deprivation, verbal insults, as well as the late salaries, a problem suffered by most female workers in Saudi Arabia.

A third woman expressed her fears of being trafficked from her previous employer as she has been sold to another recruitment agency, and is now among the stranded Filipina domestic workers. She said that she was forced to sign documents claiming that she refused to work.

According to the International Labor Organization, “violence and harassment occur to millions of domestic female workers around the world,” noting that “this is often seen as a normal thing and a part of life.”

The International Labor Organization explained that these workers are vulnerable to violence because “work takes place behind closed doors, in isolation, and in working environments with profound imbalances of power”.

The Saudi regime claims to have introduced reforms to the sponsorship system since last March. However, the new system is marred by many legal and humanitarian loopholes, as the new system still allows the exploitation of expatriate workers and control over the most vulnerable groups.

Moreover, there are still categories of expatriate workers who are subject to the exploitative sponsorship system, and they must obtain the permission of their employers before doing anything.

We demand immediate and urgent amendments to save the helpless poor workers who are subjected to arbitrary and exploitative laws that have nothing to do with reform, especially since 60% of immigrants in Saudi Arabia are excluded from the reforms (private drivers, guards, housemaids, shepherds, and garden workers).

Those who are entitled to reforms can transfer their sponsorship to another employer when their contract ends without the consent of the first sponsor, provided that they give notice and fulfill other unknown “specific measures”.

We warn that continuing to deal with workers and migrants in this cruel manner is an omen of the return of the eras of slavery, and it also contributes to the tarnishing of the reputation of Saudi Arabia, which is already suffering due to the increasing violations of human rights by the ruling regime.

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