The International Labour Organisation (ILO) and European Union through their Global Action Programme together with stakeholders from the public and private sector recently held a meeting in Harare to address the challenges faced by Zimbabwean migrant domestic workers (MDWs) in Arab States. This meeting was an intervention to map a way forward towards the protection of the rights of migrant domestic workers in reaction to the cases of human trafficking that involved Zimbabwean women being exploited in Kuwait. The other Arab States include Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iraq, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Looking at the global migration trends, the International Organisation for Migrants (IOM) states that as of 2015, 48% of women are migrating to other nations in search of employment and this has resulted in the feminisation of migration. As a result of the harsh economic conditions in Zimbabwe, women have been flocking to the Arab States in search for greener pastures but this has resulted in many of them being subjected to human rights violations. Lily Sanya, the IOM Head of Mission for Zimbabwe said migrant domestic workers face danger due to lack of security.
“Poorly managed migration can lead to harm, danger and insecurity. It can encourage migrant smuggling, human trafficking as well as social unrest and discrimination, she said.
“ It can also create missed opportunities when receiving and sending countries are blocked from harnessing the development games available through diplomatic relations,” added Sanya.
Adolphus Chinomwe, the Senior Programs Officer for ILO Zimbabwe and Namibia Country Office highlighted that the recruitment of domestic workers in the Middle East is done through the Kafala System which treats the relationship between employers and employees as master and slave relationship.
“It is part of their culture and system of governance as it delegates the management of domestic workers to individuals or companies. Individuals pay recruitment agents to cater for the processing of would be workers’ travel expenses and upon arrival they will work without being paid in order for the master to recover the sponsorship costs.”
He also explained that domestic workers are forced to sign stringent contracts and their travelling documents are confiscated upon arrival. It is reported that victims work for 22 hours per day without meals. During the two hour rest , most are locked up in very small rooms so that they do not escape.
It is the unscrupulous recruitment agents who benefit at the expense of domestic workers. Due to desperation, recruited domestic workers travel to Arab states without adequate and truthful information about their destinations or work conditions. They are promised lucrative jobs and income but upon arrival, they are sold into forced labour and in most cases sex work.
Ngoni Mafukare the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, explained that 200 women are estimated to have fallen victims of human trafficking in Kuwait after being deceived by a syndicate of agencies who promised them lucrative jobs.
“Domestic workers do not have a targeted international instrument for the protection of their rights as a special category of workers with peculiar attributes.” Mafukare explained.
He said that to date, more than 89 women have been repatriated to Zimbabwe. The returnees have been given starter packs, accommodation, and psychosocial support and have also gone for medical examinations. Their profiles are detailed in order to address individual situations and they have also been reunited with their families where possible.
Mafukare’s main argument was that although domestic workers significantly contribute towards the sustenance of households, they are unrecognised. They are not treated like the rest of the workers in different sectors.
According to the ILO Convention 189 which protects and sets minimum standards for the rights and protection of migrant domestic workers, their work continues to be undervalued and is carried out mainly by women and girls many of whom are from disadvantaged communities.. Most domestic workers earn less than half of the average minimum wage set in the countries they work in and their working hours are unpredictable. More than 90% of them do not enjoy unemployment benefits and social security.
In Africa, only South Africa and Mauritius have ratified the ILO Convention 189.
The way forward was that in order to protect Zimbabwean women from forced labour, there is need for the government to address employment issues so that no one is forced to migrate in search of employment. The government should also set in place policies which govern the procedure of migration by providing adequate information and improving information dissemination so that citizens who wish to seek domestic work in other countries are knowledgeable and able to make sound decisions.
It was a common thought that proper measures should be taken to prosecute fraudulent recruitment agents and suggestions were made to ban visa processing for those who desire to seek domestic work in Arab states especially if those countries refuse to respectfully treat domestic workers.
Main image taken from www.voazimbabwe.com