Oman facing maid crunch as countries tighten screws
May 17, 2016 | 9:47 PM
by REJIMON K/[email protected]
There is roughly a 20 per cent shortage in the availability of housemaids in Oman.

Muscat: Oman is facing a shortage of housemaids as countries that normally allow their citizens to migrate as domestic workers have tightened controls.

“The implementation of stricter rules, along with lengthy procedures and bans imposed on maids coming from certain African countries have led to a shortage of housemaids in the market,” Jerry Dantis, a manpower recruitment agency official in Oman for the last 26 years, told the Times of Oman (TOO).

“We can say that compared to 2015, this year, there is roughly a 20 per cent shortage in the availability of housemaids in Oman,” he added.

On Tuesday, an official from the Bangladesh embassy in Muscat said they are studying a set of new rules demanding an increase in the minimum wage and minimum employment age for housemaids.

According to a news report, the Bangladesh mission in Oman has formulated a new policy on the recruitment of housemaids and has conveyed the same to the expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment Ministry in Bangladesh.

The news report added that the policy insists the age of domestic female workers should be 25 years and above, with the minimum wage expected to be set at OMR90, equivalent to 18,000 Bangladeshi takas. The sponsor’s salary should be OMR700.

Currently, the minimum wage is OMR75 and the sponsor’s salary is OMR500.

The policy also aims to discourage workers being employed by people other than citizens of Oman and Bangladesh.

Mohammed Sanaullah, a Bangladeshi social worker, welcomed the move and said it will definitely help protect the rights of poor housemaids.

At the beginning of this year, Indonesia had stopped sending housemaids to Oman and other countries.

In February, Oman stopped issuing visas for domestic workers from Ethiopia, Kenya, Senegal, Guinea and Cameroon.

Nasser Mohammed, another recruitment agency official in Muscat, also confirmed that lengthy procedures and stricter rules are affecting the supply of housemaids, resulting in shortages. “It is quite hard to supply housemaids in Oman now. Their native countries have imposed tougher rules and lengthier procedures. It is quite hard to bring a housemaid to Oman now. This is affecting the market,” he added.

However, according to Dantis, stricter rules and more lengthy procedures are reportedly also leading to illegal trafficking.

“Many people find devious ways to bring housemaids to Oman,” he added.

Saud Salmi, a trade union leader, who is quite vocal about domestic workers’ rights and welfare in Oman, said reforming the Kafala system is the one option that could help resolve this problem.

“A new agency with government control can be implemented in Oman where those who need a housemaid can go and hire. The system should be that the employer can hire the service and not the person, which can resolve 90 per cent of the existing problems,” the trade union leader said.

Rothna Begum, a women’s rights researcher on the Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said it is important that countries of origin ensure adequate protection mechanisms for their domestic workers.

“But it is also a concern that recruitment agencies are choosing more unregulated forms of migration to bring domestic workers into Oman. Omani authorities should ensure that domestic workers have full and equal protection like other workers by including them into the labour law, and reform the kafala system so that domestic workers are not tied to their employers,” she noted.

The HRW researcher added that the authorities should also monitor recruitment agencies to ensure that they are not trafficking women into situations of forced labour, and sanctioning those that are found guilty of doing so.

According to Bangladesh’s Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET), recruitment of female workers for Oman has increased in the last four years after other housemaid sourcing countries, including Philippines and Indonesia, stopped sending maids to Oman. The BMET data reveals that in 2015, there were 16,980 Bangladeshi maids in Oman.

India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh also have strict rules in place regarding housemaid recruitment.

In 2011 itself, India had tightened its housemaid recruitment rules with Oman. Under the revised regulations it was made mandatory that prospective employers submit salary certificates that prove they are able to pay minimum monthly wages of OMR1,000.

The employers also needed to provide a bank guarantee of OMR1,100 while recruiting a housemaid. The Indian government has also imposed an age restriction of between 30 and 50 years for Indian housemaids.

An Indian housemaid’s minimum wage is currently OMR75 and moreover, the recruitment can only be done through a government online portal.

Hiruni Rajapakse, second secretary at the Sri Lankan Embassy in Oman, said they too have in place protection measures for their citizens, who work as housemaids in Oman.

“The minimum salary is between OMR115 and OMR120. Women, who have children less than five years old cannot board a flight from Sri Lanka to Oman on a housemaid visa,” an official from the embassy said, adding that there are currently 8,000 Sri Lankan housemaids working in Oman.

Recently, Said Salem Al Saadi, advisor to the Minister of Manpower, said Oman plans to legalise domestic workers’ rights and provide better protection, either under the new labour law or as a separate amendment.

Currently, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates exclude domestic workers from the ambit of their labour laws.

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