Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Labor and Social Development just took a major step to ensure domestic workers receive their monthly salaries.
On Saturday, the ministry launched prepaid payroll salary cards for domestic workers, requiring all employers to get on board with the new scheme within six months.
According to the ministry's spokesperson Khaled Aba Al-Khail, these cards will ensure the timely payment of salaries to domestic workers, an issue that right's groups have often cited as a problem in the kingdom and other Gulf nations.
Many banks were also providing such cards as an optional service to customers. However, according to Al-Khail, employers will now be required to give domestic workers such cards as soon as they arrive in the kingdom.
“Household Payroll Card allows sponsors to process the payment of salaries and incentives to their household workers electronically with ease, safety, and comfort," the Saudi Investment Bank website says, according to Saudi Gazette.
Functioning like a debit card, the scheme allows employers to pay domestic workers in an easy and efficient way, while also making it easier for the transactions to be monitored by the relevant authorities.
Currently, foreign workers in Saudi Arabia enter the kingdom through the sponsorship (or kafala) system. Human rights groups have criticized the system and its use throughout the Arab world, saying it does not adequately protect foreign employees or guarantee their basic rights.
One issue of abuse noted by activists is the failure of some employers from paying their employees the agreed-upon salary.
Although rights groups still see significant room for improvement, the kingdom has been taking some steps to ensure migrant workers' rights over the past few years.
In 2015, the kingdom made 38 amendments to the Labor Law, which Human Rights Watch hailed as a positive step to support workers' rights, including foreign laborers. However, the group also noted that domestic workers were excluded from the increase protections.
"Saudi Arabia’s labor reforms will help protect migrant workers if the government follows through and enforces them," Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director of HRW said at the time. "But domestic workers, often the ones who need the most protection from abuse, are left out in the cold."
Instituting payment cards may be a small step to protect domestic workers against abusive employers.