Protecting the rights of migrant domestic workers

The ILO estimates that 2.1 million people are engaged in domestic work across the Middle East and North Africa. With increased participation of women in the labour force across the region, families have become more and more reliant on migrant domestic workers to supplement their social care needs as a way of coping with inadequate public services and unaffordable private sector providers. The overwhelming majority of migrant domestic workers are women from Asian and African countries such as Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Nepal, Indonesia and Ethiopia.

In the majority of Arab countries, migrant domestic workers are excluded from national labour legislation and are heavily dependent upon their employers through a restrictive sponsorship system known as Kafala. Under the Kafala system, a domestic worker’s immigration status is tied to an individual employer or sponsor (kafeel) throughout their contract period. Domestic workers cannot enter the country, transfer employment nor leave the country for any reason without first obtaining explicit written permission from the kafeel. Commonly, kafeels exert further control over domestic workers by confiscating their passports and travel documents, despite legislation in some countries that declares this practice illegal. The informal, unregulated and isolated nature of their work renders migrant domestic workers vulnerable to exploitation, abuse, forced labour and trafficking.

English | August 4, 2015



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