It's not like we needed a report to validate the claim that domestic workers are exploited. But now that the claim is backed by numbers, there is proof that the working conditions of migrant domestic workers are still sinking. In fact, migrant domestic workers are among the most exploited group in the world.
In a report titled "Time To Care: Unpaid and underpaid care work and the global inequality crisis" published by Oxfam on Monday, it was revealed that just 10 percent of domestic workers around the world have equal protection in labor law compared with other workers. In addition to that, around half of them actually lack minimum wage protection. It is also estimated that the 3.4 million domestic workers in forced labor worldwide are "being robbed" of $8 billion every year as their employers often deprive them of the money they earned.
The report specifically highlights the horrible kafala system that is in place in Middle Eastern countries. The system has long been criticized by human rights organizations which have described it as modern-day slavery.
Under it, domestic workers are often treated like slaves, denied their most basic rights (such as the ability to travel or change jobs), and subjected to abuse and racism. Some workers are even "sold" online, others are locked up in their homes. An undercover investigation by BBC News Arabic in 2019 shed light on the former, highlighting the presence of an online black market of human slavery in Arab countries.
The kafala system is essentially an abusive sponsorship system that legally binds the worker to their employer. Hence, the labor laws of the respective country are brushed aside while employment contracts by racist agencies take their place.
Employers in the Arab world often confiscate workers' passports, although this is technically illegal in most countries. Workers are routinely forced to work extremely long hours with little, if any, days off. For example, domestic workers in Saudi Arabia work an average of 63.7 hours per week, the second-highest estimate worldwide, according to a 2017 report by the International Trade Union Confederation.
On top of it all, the workers have few legal protections. Suicide rates among migrant domestic workers in various Arab countries are alarming. Still, workers are subject to inhumane working conditions and no one is doing anything about it.
As pointed out in the report, 80 percent of the estimated 67 million domestic workers worldwide are women. Hence, these workers are marginalized on various fronts. Their struggles are intersectional as their gender, race, ethnicity, and class put them at a disadvantage in the vile society we live in.
The fair treatment of migrant domestic workers in the region (and abroad) is unattainable for as long as the kafala system is in place. Equal and just treatment won't happen unless the kafala system, in its entirety, is abolished.
Considering the report focuses on "global inequality," it makes sense to see the topic of migrant domestic workers take ground. The report also highlighted the status of things between the rich and the poor, thanks to biased economic systems.
To put things in perspective, Oxfam compared numbers and revealed that 22 of the richest men in the world have more combined wealth than all 325 million women in Africa.
"When 22 men have more wealth than all the women in Africa combined, it's clear that our economy is just plain sexist," said Oxfam GB's chief executive, Danny Sriskandarajah.
Many of the migrant domestic workers who come to the Arab world are either from African or Asia, yet some employers still deny the workers the money they most probably came to earn and send back home. But even that's not a default right due to the lack of proper labor laws in the space.