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Domestic worker says she experienced ‘slavery’ with her employer

By Sawsan Tabazah - Mar 29,2018 - Last updated at Mar 29,2018

AMMAN — Isolated from the world, not allowed to communicate with anyone or to leave the house, Monika, a domestic worker, said she suffered behind closed doors for months before she could escape from her “prison”. 

Monika is not her real name but was changed upon her request to protect her identity. 

Interviewed by The Jordan Times in November last year and then via e-mail recently, Monika said her dream was to make a decent living for her two-year-old baby. "All turned into a nightmare the moment I started work for my new employer."

“They picked me from the airport, but I immediately felt unwelcomed and I started crying” the 30-year-old women told The Jordan Times, a day after she ran away from her employer’s house in November and was hosted at the Jordanian Women
Union (JWU)’s shelter. 

During her stay at her employer's house, Monika recalled, she had experienced “slavery” in the form of long working hours, insufficient food and bad treatment.

 “I worked from 6am until 10 or 11pm … my breakfast and dinner was a small zeit and zaatar [olive oil and thyme mix] roll. I was not allowed to eat from their [family] food... cheese was only for them and my lunch was just the leftovers of the cooked meal. They brought me to replace a Bangladeshi maid, who told me that I must steal food to live, but I would never do such a thing." 

Monika said she lost weight, suffered anemia and ulcer after five months of work. 

“I wasn’t allowed to go to the bathroom at night, he [the employer] used to tell me if you want to go to bathroom at night you have to keep it until the morning…when I fell down from the ladder, he forced me to sleep in the bathroom when I asked them to allow me to have some rest."

She said that she used to communicate "secretly" with a neighbour familiar with her suffering, who helped her escape the house and seek help from Tamkeen for Legal Aid and Human Rights, an NGO concerned with labour and human rights. 

 

Reporting on labour exploitations 

 

Not all domestic workers are as a lucky as Monika to have someone to help them — many have no clue where to go or what to do, an advocate said.  

Linda Kalash, Tamkeen’s president said that because they are women and expats, domestic workers are more vulnerable to labour exploitation than any other guest workers.

“Domestic helpers live isolated, restricted freedom of movement and denied of their personal documents and belongings, including work permits, passports and mobile phones, which their employers confiscate. This makes them unable to speak out to demand their rights or report labour exploitations," Hadeel Abdul Aziz, director of Justice Centre for Legal Aid, has said in recent remarks to The Jordan Times.

Abdul Aziz explained that domestic workers’ low education and ignorance of their rights play a key role in rendering their situation this miserable.
But Monika disagreed.

"I hold a degree in business law. It is not a matter of ignorance of our rights but the restrictions imposed on us," Monika said. 

“Even if you know your rights, it is hard to come out and communicate to others because you don't have your phone and you don’t talk to anybody; how will you be able to express yourself and demand your rights?" 

According to Labour Ministry’s Spokesperson Mohammad Khatib, the ministry in 2017 dealt with 88 alleged human trafficking cases that were referred to the Public Security Department’s Anti-Human Trafficking Department. He also said that the ministry has dealt with 917 complaints from employers against domestic workers on various issues and a total of 2,090 complaints on absconding from employer. 

In the Kingdom, a domestic worker who absconds from her employer’s house and/or works for another employer without the permission of the first employer is considered illegal and becomes subject to detention and deportation. 

Kalash said that some domestic workers abscond their workplaces to escape labour exploitation. “But they become illegal anyway”. 

Under the 2015 bylaw regulating the work of domestic helpers’ recruitment agencies, Kalash said that a shelter for run-away workers was to be established, but “no such facility has been set up yet.”

 

Raising awareness 

 

Tamkeen and JWU are among the leading NGOs in the country supporting and helping domestic workers to obtain their rights. 

Tamkeen provides legal help and support to around 450 guest workers, either through paying overstay fines or arranging their travel back home in cooperation with their embassies and concerned authorities. 

For its part, JWU provides a shelter, social, psychological, medical and legal services as well as training and empowerment programmes to over 150 women annually, according to figures obtained from the facility. 

However, the director of Justice centre that also provides legal aid to domestic workers and conduct raising awareness campaigns to domestic workers said that reaching out to all those in need of help is usually difficult. 

“Still we cannot reach everyone; only those able to report their problems would be helped” Abdul Aziz stressed, calling for providing guest workers with brochures written in their languages that include contact information of their embassies, police and NGOs if they face abuse or labour exploitations. 

Although the Domestic Helpers Bylaw obliges the Labour Ministry to raise awareness and offer advice for both employers and workers to ensure a “good relation” between them through bringing them together for talks in cases of disputes, Khatib said: “It is not possible to meet 50.000 domestic workers.” He added that awareness campaigns usually target recruitment agencies directly or through media channels. 

Khatib stressed that the ministry has a complaints hotline (5802666 6 962+, extension 105 or 305) for guest workers in several languages with interpreters to help them report their problems. 

The National Centre for Human Rights recommended in its latest report raising employers’ and employees’ awareness about their labour rights, Jordanian Labour Law and Anti-Human Trafficking Law. 

Legal expert Ayman Halaseh said that abuse or mistreatment practiced against domestic workers cannot always be proved. “If a domestic worker files a complaint against her employer, the latter, in a countermove, lodges a lawsuit accusing her of stealing, for example.”

“A lawsuit against another makes the legal state of the domestic helper complicated, leading her to give up her rights and dues just to leave home,” Halaseh noted. 

Also, lengthy litigation process that takes one to two years forces domestic workers to give up some of their rights, Hussein Omari of the Adaleh Centre for Human Rights Studies said.

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