Increase in domestic workers’ complaints during pandemic

Report finds that most domestic workers filed complaints for withholding personal documents

domestic worker
The pandemic saw an increase in complaints from domestic workers, according to a report from Tamkeen Association for Legal Aid and Human Rights. The report was released to mark International Day of Domestic Workers. (Photo: Unsplash)
AMMAN — On June 16, the world celebrates the International Day of Domestic Workers, a tradition that started with the ratification of the International Labour Convention No. 189 concerning decent work for domestic workers in 2011. اضافة اعلان

A new report issued by Tamkeen Association for Legal Aid and Human Rights for the occasion found that domestic workers have filed 346 complaints in Jordan since last year.

Domestic workers in Jordan come from a variety of countries, including southeast Asia and Africa. According to Tamkeen’s report, 131 complaints were filed by Ugandan workers, 86 by Filipino workers, 34 by Bangladeshi workers, 29 by Ghanaian workers, and 66 complaints by Sri Lankan, Ethiopian, Nepali, Kenyan, and Indonesian workers.

The report indicated that the total number of domestic workers in Jordan amounts to 33,777, including 10,402 Filipinas and 8,095 Bangladeshis, and that there are 30,000 irregular workers who left their workplaces for a variety of reasons. These workers are usually women who work in live-in arrangements with families, often under challenging work circumstances with language barriers. Agencies based in Jordan and other countries in the Middle East recruit women from abroad and bring them over in cohorts.

The most common complaint, according to the report reviewed by Jordan News, was employers withholding personal identification documents, such as passports.

The association recommended facilitating the transfer of the worker from one employer to another without a “waiver” required from the first employer, creating an effective complaints mechanism, and taking each complaint seriously.

"We noticed an increase in the workers' complaints and this is because of the pandemic whereby employers have not paid the domestic workers their salaries in addition to not being able to return back to their countries, which made things even more complicated,” said Tamkeen’s president Linda Kalash in an interview with Jordan News.

"The laws are really strict and help in protecting workers' rights,” she added. “The problem is not within the laws, it is within the law enforcement."

"Some people do not follow these rules and regulations,” Kalash explained. "There is also a lack of following up on these laws among some people."

"There should be an effective inspection from some authorities for these workers to make sure each and every worker is getting their rights."

President of the Domestic Workers’ Recruitment Association Khaled Husainat said in remarks to Jordan News that reports of reports are “exaggerated.”

A 2011 report from watchdog Human Rights Watch found that human rights for migrant domestic workers are “are slim, if non-existent.” The report found that the workers “face systemic and systematic abuse”, including non-payment, deprivation of food, and the expectation that they work for up to twenty hours a day.

"I cannot deny that there are some violence cases against them but not as much as it is portrayed by some rights organizations," Husainat said. "Some parties do not want to admit that some workers do abuse their employers," but this goes unreported by these NGOs, he charged. 

He spoke of some sort of organized escape.  “Some workers decide to escape and leave the houses of their employers to search for better opportunities and a higher salary but, on the other hand, some domestic workers who manage to escape encourage other workers to do the same, using social media as a platform."

He called on workers to report their complaints rather than leave their workplaces on their own. "If a worker gets abused in any way, they can easily file a complaint with the Ministry of Labour or any police station," he said. "Anything is just better than deciding to escape: we live in a country that respects human rights and is ready to help anytime."

A lawyer speaking with Jordan News disagreed with Husainat’s framing of the issue – and in his particular his admonishment that abused workers not “escape” their workplaces. Imad Sharqawi, an attorney and an activist in the field of human rights, told Jordan News that "we should not be using the word ‘escaping’ as the domestic workers are just as like other workers who have the full right to just leave her work if they do not feel satisfied with it."

"We should respect that after all; we are dealing with a human who has feeling and must be respected,” Sharqawi said. “These workers have rights that we should not ignore them."

"These workers should have their own private life, too," he said. "Employers’ rights from the workers is to get their work done. Other than that, it is not their business; they should not be punishing (workers) on matters like having mobiles or having a day off or even having a lover."

"In general, I can say that people started to be more educated in how they must treat their workers. Time is different now," the lawyer added.

Read more national news