The frequent come back of our overseas woman workers from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) has been a warning and a depth concern of Bangladesh. In the past few years (2015-2018), a huge number of female workers went in the KSA. Despite the concern, the trend of going is increasing day by day. An around number of 83,354 went in 2017 and in 2108 till now, it is around of 30102, most of them are employed as a domestic worker. And on the other side, around 5000 female workers have returned to Bangladesh from KSA since 2015. Most of them alleged of inhuman treatment, sexual abuse, physical torture, mental torture, unpaid of salary, not having food. As a result, the condition of returnees is very horrible. Some are suffering from mental trauma. Even in the last week, a woman returned home while she could not talk and admitted into the hospital. The scenario of their sorrow is unbearable and intolerable!
The drawback of the existing domestic regulation and Labour Law of KSA is that those laws do not maintain the international legal standard. Those standards are found in the InternationalConvention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and their Families of 1990(ICMW), CEDAW which ensures the rights of women, and other human rights international instruments.
Dhaka signed an agreement on domestic migrant worker with the KSA in 2015. This deal includes the minimum wage with food and accommodation and categorizes domestic workers under twelve heads. Though the minimum wage is determined, the representative of KSA said that the salary depends upon the competency of worker. The Ministry of Labour of KSA published a brochure which also discusses many matters including rights and obligations of employer and worker, penalty for the violation and complain and dispute settlement on the basis of sponsorship. The nature of rights of a domestic worker under sponsorship is very feeble because the nature of work depends upon the agreement made between worker and employer and this system requires the workers the permission to change worker or exit the country. In some cases, many employers confiscate passport. As a result at that time, they pass their days under a pressure and sometimes the conditions turn to slavery.
In this respect, the worker`s position is very weak especially Bangladeshi worker including woman workers are not efficient to make contract and communicate with employer or labour office because they do not know language except Bangla. Hence, they have to depend upon the third party and therefore their fate is always pending after entering into KSA. On the other hand, the Labour Law of KSA does not include the domestic worker under this Act. As a result, the domestic worker cannot enjoy the rights and privileges under this Act. However, under domestic regulation of KSA, there is an authority under the ministry of Labour called labour office to take complain from both employer and worker. This committee is consisted of three members, one of them legal adviser from labour ministry. Firstly, this committee functions to settle the dispute amicably. Secondly, if not settled amicably, the committee shall consider the issue and give the decision within prescribed time, thirdly, the aggrieved party can appeal to the labour court against the decision of the committee and the decision of Labour court shall be final. Though this domestic labour regulation ensures certain rights of domestic worker like daily off-hour, weekly rest, medical care, sick leave etc, off-hour and weekly rest depends upon the contract agreed upon the conditions. The most critique on this regulation is that it does not effective and exhaustive law to provide remedy when worker becomes victim of criminal offence. I don`t find an example of punishment given to any employer when they commit any kind of offence like maximum alleged offences are Rape, sexual abuse, torture and murder etc. Those are covered by other law which deals with citizen and non-citizen. The experience of other foreigner workers in Saudi Arabia shows that the trial of those offences is rarely accomplished because a migrant worker has many barriers to approach the existing criminal justice system. For instance inability to communicate in Arabic language, the nature of existing laws is more patriarch-centric; the helps from Embassy depend upon many formalities; the difficult to understand the nature of contractual work because the definition of domestic work is very ambiguous.
The drawback of the existing domestic regulation and Labour Law of KSA is that those laws do not maintain the international legal standard. Those standards are found in the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and their Families of 1990 (ICMW), CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women) which ensures the rights of women, and other human rights international instruments. Till now KSA is not party to ICMW and even KSA has not ratified CEDAW yet. And According to the 2017 report of Human Rights Watch, Saudi Arabia is not good position to protect human rights within the existing legal framework. This report mentions “Domestic workers, predominantly women, faced a range of abuses including overwork, forced confinement, non-payment of wages, food deprivation, and psychological, physical, and sexual abuse without the authorities holding their employers to account. Workers who attempted to report employer abuses sometimes faced prosecution based on counterclaims of theft, “black magic,” or “sorcery”. Therefore we cannot expect that Saudi Arabia would feel a legal obligation to protect Bangladeshi migrant domestic female worker. It is hardly to ensure the obligation of Saudi Arabia because of economic power. Other sending countries like Indonesia, Philippine, Sri Lanka and India expressed the same concerned. Even Sri Lanka banned sending their female for the purpose of domestic work. Indonesia and Philippine made many talks with Saudi Arabia to ensure the safety of their migrant woman worker including minimum wage and medical insurance. But the talks have been futile. Now they decided not to send woman worker without training. On this issue, Bangladesh showed an indifferent attitude. We did not see an effective and material negotiation with Saudi Arabia. ILO said that Bangladesh did not bargain in the international forum to force Saudi Arabia to protect the rights of their domestic migrant woman workers.
The government of Bangladesh cannot escape their duty to protect our migrant woman worker in KSA. They are also entitled to get the same security as we, who are in the country, are enjoying the security of life. To ensure a safe and safety environment for our migrant woman workers of KSA, the government must take necessary steps to raise voice at international forum and arrange an emergency talk with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as soon as possible.
The writer is an LLM Student of South Asian University, New Delhi.