Social media platforms, especially Facebook pages and groups, have now become marketplaces to subvert the role of recruitment agencies for hiring a domestic worker.
These groups are country specific, but also provide cross-border recruitment, bypassing certain moratoriums in place throughout the GCC. These groups and pages demonstrate that bans do little to protect workers, and in fact make them more vulnerable.
For instance, the Philippines doesn’t process contracts for workers to the UAE as the Emirates has not agreed to allow the Philippines labor attache to verify contracts. This in turn has created a huge black market for Filipino domestic workers, who are widely sought for their skill-level and English-language command.
Indonesia has banned any new deployment of domestic workers all the GCC countries. Yet, the demand for Indonesian workers persists across the region and so does Indonesians’ desire to migrate for a better livelihood, as there are not enough job opportunities at home.
Anis Hidayah, Executive Director of Migrant Care Indonesia, believes a temporary ban might be useful, to allow for time to correct procedures and improve conditions; however, outright ban not only denies workers a basic right to livelihood,, but also makes them even more vulnerable to trafficking. “This also highlights the repercussions of allowing recruitment agencies a monopoly,” she added, in a conversation with Migrant-Rights.org.
The Emirates-based Facebook group Maids.Ae has nearly 74,000 likes, and features workers recruited from neighbouring countries, especially Kuwait. Maids in Qatar, a closed group, has nearly 9,000 members, with several dozens of weekly posts seeking and offering services.
Discussions include “visa transfers”, “part-time”, “maid-sharing”, “live in” and “live-out” and a whole host of other ways of navigating the narrow and difficult path of hiring and housing a domestic worker.
Why This Works For Employers
Nearly 40% of Qatari employers surveyed by the Shelter Me project preferred recruiting via referrals over using recruitment agents .
Employers in Shelter Me project focus groups expressed disappointment with recruitment agencies, both because of high costs, and because they were unable to vet the candidate. Using referrals on social media and through friends helps employers familiarise themselves with the worker. Bypassing agents also provides more options than sponsoring a full time live-in worker. For a lot of families, employing part-time or live-out workers is more convenient, but the only legal option available is hire workers hourly is through a cleaning services company. These companies have become popular in recent years, but do not cover childcare or cooking needs. So many risk the hefty fines to employ a worker not under their sponsorship.
Some employers allow the domestic workers they sponsor to work outside of their homes, either to subsidise their own costs or to help the worker earn extra income.
Why Domestic Workers Use This Type of Recruitment
Workers use these platforms for several reasons, all of which underline their vulnerabilities under the stifling sponsorship system (kafala), and uncovered by the labor laws.
Some of the reasons include:
- They are at the end of their contract period and would like to continue working in the country, but with a different sponsor. They do not want to go through the whole recruitment cycle again, which would require them to return to their home countries.
- Their current employer (usually a migrant themselves) has to leave the country mid-contract, and the worker would like to complete their original contractual period.
- Domestic Workers who have left abusive employment situations and have debts and/or families to support in their home countries may seek supplementary employment options. This is illegal as per the laws of all GCC states, unless it has been formally redressed by the government agency that has oversight.
- Many domestic workers are recruited on false promises, on a visit or business visa, and have spent a lot of money to do so. They are left with little option but to seek either full or part-time jobs, again in violation of the residency laws..
- Those working in formal sectors but who wish to make some money during their free time or weekends.
These are the most common circumstances leading workers to seek employment via non-traditional and ‘extra-legal’ means, all of which can put workers at more risk; susceptible to exploitation by employers and to detention by authorities.