For a couple of years now the print and electronic media have been replete with stories of Ghanaian girls being trafficked to The Gulf and the Middle East to work as housemaids. Every story I have seen talks of abuses, injuries and sometimes even death. The radio and Tv stations sometimes show some of these ladies narrating harrowing ordeals they have suffered in mainly the GCC countries of Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia much to the angst and chagrin of Ghanaians
An objective and fair analysis will demand that we have a clearer understanding of the issues. Why do the ladies keep on traveling to work as housemaids despite these stories? How do they find their way there? Who are the agents and middlemen who facilitate their travel? Why the demand for Ghanaian ladies as housemaids in The Gulf? What can government do about the situation? What are the positives and negatives of the migration of ladies to work as housemaids?
A very dispassionate, open-minded and objective attempt is being made by this article to answer these questions and proffer some solutions. Having been in the International Recruitment business for close to 15 years, yours truly has some decent suggestions to make.
THE GULF STATES AND HOUSEMAIDS; THE PUSH AND THE PULL FACTORS
The Gulf States are rich, very rich. Per capita income is higher in that region than most parts of the world. Yet all of them, apart from Saudi Arabia, have more foreigners/foreign workers and residents than their citizens. Qatar for e.g. has about 88% of all residents being foreigners! The United Arab Emirates (which many refer to as Dubai, ie the name of their most popular Emirate or City), has about 80% of all residents being foreigners, etc
Their wealth, coupled with their relatively low population, gives the citizens are very high per capita income and extremely high standards of living. Therefore jobs considered as a low class or low paying jobs will not be done by citizens of the country, eg the work of a housemaid. Also, expatriates who need housemaids will of course not find them in citizens of the Gulf.
The only option then is to recruit housemaids and other domestic staff from abroad, and from where else, then the poorer countries in Africa and The Far East Asia mainly.
One should also note that having domestic servants and housemaids is seen as norm in The Gulf and even in the rich Singapore, where almost every middle-class home has at least one housemaid. Their source countries though are mainly India, The Philippines, and Indonesia.
Paying a housemaid $250-$350 (GHS 1050 – 1470 per today’s rates) for even an average family in The UAE is peanuts. So it is for expatriates with well paid white collar jobs. That same housemaid from a country like Ghana sees this money as huge. How many SHS graduates or even graduates of tertiary institutions earn a tax-free income of 1,000 cedis a month? How much more rural folk who can hardly make ends meet? The lure is HUGE. This pull factor alone will make Ghanaians travel to The Gulf to work as housemaids in droves.
Another reason why the demand for housemaids from Ghana has increased tremendously is the ban placed by many countries on their citizens, from working in The Gulf and the Middle East. Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Indonesia, Nepal and The Philippines are some of the countries that have put a total ban or partial ban on their citizens working in all or most of the countries in The Gulf due to maltreatment and abuses over the past 5 years. Thus there is a MASSIVE SHORTAGE of maids in mainly Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, where most of the abuses are reported from.
Housemaid recruitment agencies in these countries, therefore, have fallen on Ghanaians, and offer mouthwatering deals to recruiters. Taking one single lady to Saudi Arabia to work as a maid can earn a direct agent in Ghana about $1,000. Yes!! 4,200 cedis per today’s rates. So if an agent is able to send 15 girls to Saudi a month, he earns over 60,000 cedis a month, or 756,000 cedis a year.
Just for finding ladies, getting them passports and letting them undergo medical exams (all paid for by the foreign recruiter and not a part of the $1,000 ), and getting a free ticket also from the Saudi Agency. This huge profit potential plus the lure of the Ghanaian ladies due to poverty and ignorance should tell you that sitting on radio or TV and pontificating about the problem WILL NOT STOP THE PROCESS.
THE AGENTS: The good and the bad
Agents who undertake this recruitment can be grouped into two main categories. First, we have the licensed recruitment agencies who have gone through the necessary scrutiny and registration processes with the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations, through the Labour Department of Ghana.
They also have sub-agents who go to the hinterlands and recruit ladies for them. Then we have those agents who work as “connection men” who have linked up with Saudi Agents or act as sub-agents for the registered Ghanaian agencies.
The licensed agencies are more regulated and reliable, and there is greater security with them for the maids. However, the “connection men” types wreak the most havoc in the system.
They are mainly those who TRICK innocent ladies into believing they are going to work as secretaries, office assistants, hairdressers, etc and throw them to the maid recruitment agencies when they arrive at their destination.
Many take huge monies from the ladies under the pretext of securing them jobs as anything but maids in The Gulf, and when the ladies arrive they change their phone numbers and vanish. That is pure trafficking and so many of those who have bitter experiences fell for these fraudsters.
Regulated and licensed agencies tell the truth regarding the work the ladies are going to do, and also counsel and orientate them before they leave so that those who are not cut for the stress of a housemaid job opt out. Thus fewer of their candidates go through the psychological trauma suffered by those trafficked.
However, both groups sometimes recruit very young and underage children, as young as 14yrs, manage to get a passport with a fake age for them and send them out to work. This is an obnoxious practice and should be checked immediately.
THE WORK AND THE ABUSE
The work of the maid in The Gulf is much like that of any maid anywhere in Ghana. They do cleaning, cooking, washing, taking care of children, etc.
Even though we hear of cases of physical and psychological abuse, I daresay most of the cases have to do with overwork. I spoke to one lady who was made to clean a big house with 11 bedrooms, 7 bathrooms, 3 halls and dining halls, a large compound, wash cars, cook, etc. She slept and rested just about 6 hours a day.
Many are made to rest for just a few hours and work 7 days a week. Others are not allowed to keep mobile phones or contact the outside world. Some are given substandard food or kept in poorly ventilated rooms, etc.
There are cases of rape, physical abuse, and torture, but these are minimal compared to the issue of overwork, lower salary than agreed, and generally very poor conditions of service.
1. Bilateral MOU with receiving countries
State sponsored supply of housemaids and domestic servants is a science and an art that has been perfected by countries like The Philippines, Indonesia and other Far East Asian countries. Before I continue with my suggestions I would humbly advice relevant agencies and authorities to look at the systems in these countries, and then device solutions to our specific problems with our specific situation and nuances in mind, since there is no need to reinvent the wheel.
Government must immediately decide to which countries she would like to allow Ghanaians to go to work as maids. A simple research into which countries normally have the highest reports of abuse of housemaids, plus salary levels and the receiving countries’ legal and immigration regime relating to housemaids will be of help in making the decision. Hint; The UAE is gearing towards giving contracts to maidservants DIRECTLY from its Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation, a very good development.
Once decided, the Government of Ghana must immediately sit with those countries and reach a mutually beneficial MOU, and sign an agreement with clearly spelled out terms and conditions for recruiting housemaids from Ghana. Salary, conditions of service including day offs, compulsory access to a working mobile phone, salary guarantee, etc should be spelled out vividly.
Ghanaian housemaids should only be allowed to travel to such countries that have a bilateral agreement with Ghana over the supply of housemaids.
In this regard, the Government of Ghana a year or two ago signed such an agreement with The Kingdom of Jordan. Salaries are protected and recruitment of Ghanaian ladies to Jordan to work as housemaids has been going on almost smoothly for more than a year now. No wonder most of the cases of abuse are not reported from Jordan.
2. Like is done by The Philippines, all Ghanaian ladies arriving in such receiving countries must be made to register with the Ghanaian Embassy or Consulate ( if there is one there), and be given connected and active mobile phones, numbers of which should be recorded at the embassy or consulate, along with the addresses and details of their employers.
There should be an officer in charge of these workers, who will regularly check on them and who the ladies can call in case of any abuse or the need for any arbitration with her employers.
3. The Labour Department of Ghana should be resourced and strengthened to
a. effectively monitor and supervise all housemaid recruiting agencies to comply with age limits and abide by good practices and regulations.
b. Sanitize the system to make sure that unregistered agencies and “connection men” and Travel and Tour companies do not take part in the recruitment of housemaids, or any migrant workers for that matter.
c. Give the necessary orientation during the Exit Permit process (where workers go the Labour Department for final briefing by a Labour Officer before embarking on their journey), so that they can ensure that no worker has been deceived in terms of the work they are going to do, the salary, conditions of service etc.
d. Give MASSIVE education and sensitization to all Ghanaians, especially those in the hinterlands, through radio stations, through their MPs and Assembly Men, Chiefs and opinion leaders, clergy etc. Every Ghanaian lady who wants to work as a maid in the approved countries would then have to contact any of the registered and licensed agencies in good standing.
The addresses and contacts of such agencies should be made available in the media, at the District and Regional Labour Offices as well as made available to their MPs, Assemblymen, Chiefs, Opinion Leaders, Clergy etc.
Anyone who goes through an unapproved agent should be informed that they will not get governmental support should they face any problems.
There have been horrible stories from The Gulf. Most are true but some are untrue. There are many Ghanaian ladies working as housemaids in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, The UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan, Lebanon etc who are very ok and I know many of them. I listen to them and offer them help when I can. I have played a role in getting a couple of them back to Ghana after they were tricked into going there.
As in every society, we have the good, the bad and the ugly. The Gulf States have their share. Unfortunately, there are too many reports of abuses coming from there, and I cannot claim to know exactly the reason why.
However, I have met ladies who were treated so well in these countries and keep going back. Some were made to come back to Ghana with all the furniture in their room plus a big “Thank-you “ tip.
Others have regularly accompanied their host families on their holidays to Europe, Australia, Canada, USA etc and now have multiple entry visas of many countries yet they come for holidays and go back to their jobs as housemaids because of the great treatment they receive.
Yes, some are raped, some are beaten, some are tortured, some are abused psychologically and physically, but let’s be fair, same happens even in our homeland Ghana though not in the rampancy of the cases from The Gulf.
That is not to excuse the maltreatment of my fellow citizen by a foreigner, but I think we should stop painting every family in The Gulf as wicked beasts who are just out to torture us.
It behooves our government to put in the necessary safeguards and measures so as to reduce these abuses. You do not open the doors to your house at night and always blame the thief for robbing you. Closing your doors minimize theft. And regulating the recruitment of housemaids will minimize the abuse.
The government must put an immediate halt to the export of domestic labour, and put strict measures in place. Licensed agencies should be supervised and have their capacity built, whilst EVERYTHING must be done to stop the undocumented export of domestic labour. But this must be done quickly so as to not overly affect the operations and businesses of the genuine, licensed agencies that are into this field of business.
And for those countries that have a bad name for maltreatment of domestic servants, we can reconsider doing such business with them
source:Kwaku Addai Tardieh/myjoyonline.com