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Domestic Workers in the GCC: Rights and Violations


According to the ILO estimate, 3.16 million people were engaged in domestic work across the Arab States in 2015. Increased labor force participation amongst women in the region and changes in household structures have revealed deficits in social care services for children, the elderly, the sick, and the disabled. Families have become increasingly reliant on migrant domestic workers to supplement social care needs to cope with inadequate public social care provisions and affordable private sector providers. Furthermore, domestic workers also play a crucial role in the global economy and society, and the remittances they send home contribute to the welfare of their households.

In most GCC countries, migrant domestic workers are excluded from national labor legislation and are tied to their employers or the kafeel (sponsor) through a restrictive sponsorship system. As a result, employers wield considerable power over their working and living conditions. Moreover, if an employer fails to renew the work and residence permit or if migrant domestic workers leave their employment without the employer’s permission, they fall into irregular status and become subject to detention and deportation.

This 16 June 2021 marks the 10-year anniversary since delegates at the 100th International Labour Conference adopted a historic international standard to improve the working conditions of domestic workers across the world. The ILO’s Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189)   and the Domestic Workers Recommendation No. 201  stipulate that domestic workers should have the same fundamental labor rights as any other worker: reasonable hours of work, weekly rest of at least 24 consecutive hours, clear information on terms and conditions of employment, rights in the recruitment process, freedom from violence and harassment, and respect for fundamental rights at work, including freedom of association and collective bargaining.

What has been the progress over the last decade in ensuring the rights and protections of domestic workers in the GCC? What role can academics, civil society, and migrant workers themselves play in elevating the importance of stronger legal protections at the national level? In the context of intersectionality, can feminist and human rights organizations collaborate as equal members with domestic workers to advance shared interests?

Featured speakers: Sophia Kagan (moderator), Claire Hobden, Ann Abunda, Shaikha Al-Hashem, and Aidah Kalash.

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