March 2, 2024

Time to step up around the house

Tariq A. Al-MaeenaTrump is gone and Ramadan is here.  And along with it come added household chores. Contrary to prevailing opinion, not all Saudis are slaves to the notion that a household remains incomplete without a domestic helper.  There are homes that operate without added help be it domestic or otherwise.

However, there are moments when one wishes for that extra bit of help, but matched against the privacy and freedom to roam about in your own home unfettered, it is no contest.  Coupled with the fact that strangers bring in their own set of problems and idiosyncrasies, there are many who are doing just fine without domestic help.  Self-reliance is a thorny but rewarding act.

Yet, there are many working parents with small children who may find it very difficult to live without the services of a domestic.  There may be the elderly to take care of or the sick, and so there is a demand for helpers.

However, there is also a heavy financial burden on the pocket for many. It is an awful strain on a lot of families to go through the recruitment process of importing a domestic helper.  You start by shelling out SR 2,000 to the government for a labor visa and SR 20,000 to SR 30,000 to a recruitment agency.  Then you wait around for a few months before your help arrives.  And many times, your new arrival does not match or suit your needs.

A common complaint is a plethora of unscrupulous practices that some recruitment agencies employ in dealing with both the potential employer and employee. Then there are the added costs of medical tests, residency fees, accommodation, etc.  There are many families who find this an added burden on their modest salaries or living quarters, and yet who cannot do without a helper, especially if both parents are employed.

The Labor Ministry has considered a viable alternative by licensing companies to bring in domestic staff for local hire.  They are supposed to be trained and bonded and provided to homes that need them.  If they do not work out to the satisfaction of their employer, then the company is responsible for replacing them with another worker.  However, some households that have resorted to such companies for help tell me that they are not satisfied.

In the first instance, just a few days before the start of Ramadan, the maid they had recruited locally vanished.  When they contacted the office that supplied her, they were told to wait their turn, as there was a shortage because of the holy month!

In another case, the helper who came to the household was slow and ended up damaging more things around the house than fixing them.  Efforts to replace her were also met with the same line – there was a shortage of staff and they would just have to put up with her for now.

It must be noted that the service fees demanded by these companies is no less than what an individual would pay to an overseas recruitment company, and yet they have not eased the burden in all cases.

The manpower agencies that supply workers should also be entrusted with ensuring that the rights of the domestic helper are honored by the household, as well as quickly find a replacement if the helper is simply not up to par.  Families would then have the freedom to choose part-time or full-time help based on their needs and available accommodation.

These same agencies should check on the capacities of prospective employers and determine whether the domestic helper could be subjected to harm and abuse and denied the dignity they so rightly deserve.  They should also screen their staff for any signs of potential trouble.

There are households today that are relying on the services of runaway domestic help or those without proper residency papers.  This is highly illegal and punishable.  The end of June is the final curtain for such workers. For their sake, I hope they take advantage of the amnesty granted.
Meanwhile, it is time to step up around the house and handle those chores as they come. -(From Saudi Gazette)

— The author can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena

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