Bahrain plans new taskforce to help maids
Manama, April 24, 2014
An inter-ministerial taskforce is being set up in Bahrain to tackle the growing problem of runaway housemaids, a report said.
Almost 1,000 women fled from rogue employers last year, according to the latest figures, reported the Gulf Daily News, our sister publication.
Many are victims of abuse, are made to work for up to 22 hours a day, or not paid their salaries, but end up being criminalised when their bosses complain to the police about them running away.
Sources said the taskforce, made up of officials from the Interior, Social Development and Foreign ministries, aims to prevent the problem by ensuring the terms and conditions of their contracts are not violated.
It will also study the reasons why maids abscond from their employers.
The plan was discussed during a meeting between Nationality, Passports and Residence Affairs Assistant Under-Secretary for Exits, Research and Follow-up Brigadier Yousif bin Ahmed Al Ghattam and the Migrant Workers' Protection Society (MWPS).
"The taskforce is expected to fast-track cases of runaway workers and also ensure there are proper regulations in place," said MWPS chairwoman Marietta Dias.
"There were almost 1,000 women housed at shelters last year run by the Indonesian and Philippines embassies, in addition to the MWPS and government shelter for distressed women."
Dias said a study involving 120 women housed at its shelter produced disturbing results.
"We found out that some of these women worked for an average of 17 hours a day and in one specific case the maid worked for 22 hours," she said. "This was one of our recommendations to officials to have proper working hours because if a person is overworked then he or she loses productivity."
Dias said the non-payment of salaries was another key reason why domestic workers run away, while their bosses file a police complaint against them for violating their contract.
"The employer is the one who violates the law first by not paying the salaries to the workers," she said.
One of the most recent cases dealt with by the MWPS involved an Ethiopian housemaid who was not paid her salary for two years.
She finally received the BD1,000 ($2,639) she was owed and has returned to her homeland after activists took up her case.
"We need some sort of awareness and also start prosecuting the offenders," said Dias. "In addition, we are constantly battling the lack of translators to explain to expat workers about their situation."
Dias, along with MWPS general-secretary Beverley Hamadah, also highlighted the issue of employers not renewing the two-year residence permits of domestic workers, which means they miss the compulsory government medical check-up.
"We had a case of an Ethiopian domestic worker whose residence permit was not renewed by her employer and she got tuberculosis," said Dias.
"Maybe we are going too far by demanding medical tests to be conducted every two years for domestic workers. This is even unsafe for the families because these workers have low immunity and come from developing countries."
Bahrain authorities are working on finalising the draft of a unified GCC law to regulate domestic workers.
It will cover housemaids, cleaners, nannies, cooks, butlers, drivers and gardeners.
The legislation aims to protect the rights of more than 70,000 domestic workers by preventing confiscation of their passports and ensuring their monthly salaries are paid on time. – TradeArabia News Service