Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia are expected to sign the Domestic Workers’ Recruitment Agreement to protect the rights of Ethiopian domestic workers in that country, an official said.
The agreement will change the working situation of Ethiopian citizens in the Saudi Arabia including salary payment, having a leave and protection from domestic abuses and human right violations by their employers, Liaison Officer with Ethiopia’s Embassy in Saudi Arabia, Temsegen Omar told ENA.
If signed, the deal will make the Saudi government share responsibility with employers and agencies for any violation of rights against Ethiopian domestic workers.
Saudi Arabia was reluctant to sign the contract that obliged it to take responsibility for violation of rights against citizens, but finally they managed to narrow differences, said Temesgen,
He said: “Initially there were some differences and the differences are solved in line with Ethiopia’s needs in that the Saudi government should give guarantee and share the responsibility for safety of Ethiopian domestic workers’ in workplaces and while trying to return home.”
Ethiopian domestic workers in Saudi Arabia have been complaining about various violations including unpaid salary, domestic abuses such as torture and rape.
The Ethiopian government had banned in October 2013 its citizens from travelling to Arab countries in search of work until lasting solution is found.
Since then, extensive dialogues have been underway with Saudi Arabia and other Middle East countries to sign labour agreements to ensure the rights and benefits of its citizens.
The agreement scheduled to sign in September came following these consultations between the two countries.
Temesgen urged citizens to take legal routes and ways to travel to Middle East, saying most of the vulnerable groups are illegal immigrants.
Of the total 500,000 Ethiopians estimated to live in Saudi Arabia, some 200,000 are illegal, making the situation complicated for the Embassy to protect their rights, he added.
Saudi Arabia’s outgoing Ambassador to Ethiopia Abdulbaqi Ahmed Ajlan said in an email interview that the agreement will have a paramount importance in ensuring the rights of Ethiopian domestic workers and regulating contractual obligations among Saudi employers.
Saying the two countries have differences in some areas, the Amabassador said they have managed to narrow their differences in labor recruitments.
_The labour recruitment contract will be signed in line with the Ethio- Saudi Arabia joint commission meeting scheduled for September.
Sponsorship system (Kafala)
One of the major challenges that led to violations of rights is the sponsorship system (Kafala), which provides the mandate for employers to control their activities.
Even though the sponsorship system (Kafala), a system used to monitor migrant laborers in Middle East countries including Saudi Arabia, continues to exist, the agreement brings fundamental change in terms of responsibility and recruitment.
Since Ethiopian domestic workers were travelled to that country by an arrangement between employment agencies here and sponsors, mainly employers in Saudi Arabia. This situation opened the door for the widespread violations of rights of Ethiopian citizens, said Temesgen.
Noting the challenges in this system and the request from the Ethiopian government, Saudi has decided to provide the responsibility of recruiting workers to agencies and share responsibilities with these agencies and employers for violation of rights.
Under this system, an employer assumes responsibility for a hired migrant worker and must grant explicit permission before the worker enter the country, transfer employment, or leave the country, providing the employer immense control over the worker.
In accordance with the agreement, agencies will provide these services, rather than the employers, in which the Ethiopian government expects to improve working and residence status of its citizens.
The government of Saudi Arabia and employer households will share these responsibilities regarding work and residence status of Ethiopian domestic workers.
By signing the deal, the Saudi government takes responsibility to ensure safety of Ethiopian domestic workers in terms of getting salaries on time, protected from any physical assaults and safe return back home.
Unskilled domestic workers
Most of Ethiopian citizens travelling to Saudi Arabia and other Middle East countries don’t know how to operate home appliances, which the two sides agreed need to change.
According to the agreement, employees are expected to know how to operate home appliances in order to enter into Saudi Arabia, which Temesgen said become major source of argument between employers and the workers.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs took the responsibility train citizens who would to the Middle East about the use of the appliances, culture and working environment they intend to go.
“Unskilled employees can’t provide the required service for their employers and this mostly leads to violation of rights by the employees. So it is important to send skilled employees to ensure their rights and benefitted”, he said