Saudi Arabia: What is the Life of a Domestic Worker Like?

 

It is common to have domestic help in Saudi Arabia.  The two most common types of domestic help are a housemaid and a driver.  In hindsight, I would have preferred to have a full-time driver rather than a full-time housemaid.

Women, by law, are unable to drive in Saudi Arabia.  This can create an unnecessary hardship on both the woman and the Saudi man responsible for her transport needs.  As a result, a practical solution is for a Saudi family to engage a full time driver. 

Usually the driver is a third world expatriate from India, Pakistan or perhaps the Phillipines.  The driver may or may not live with the family.  Some drivers may live with a group of other drivers in a local apartment.  There are others who have family with them and live in a small apartment with their family.  Yet others may live at the home of their employer.

Homes in Saudi Arabia usually come equipped for domestic help.  In the case of a driver, there is generally a small room which is attached either to the outside of the house or attached to the wall which generally surrounds the house.  It is a simple room and basically a place for the driver to sleep.  Some drivers will outfit the room with a small tv or radio.

The driver is expected to be on call for the family as needed.  However, he will have more freedom than a housemaid.  In addition to transporting family members, many times he will be requested to go out on his own and run errands for the family.  He may not have set days off but there may be blocks of time when he is free.  His typical day will be spent driving or waiting to be of assistance.

  The driver who lives with his employer or shares an apartment with other drivers is typically in Saudi Arabia for the money.  He will live simply so that he can send more money home to his family.  Most drivers are supporting an extended family.  They find that by working in Saudi Arabia they can offer their family better lives.  It is not uncommon for a driver to come to Saudi Arabia and stay for 20 years or more.

The housemaid, on the other hand, has a different life from that of a driver.  She is relegated to the inside of the house and is kept busy throughout the day and perhaps the evening.  The housemaid usually lives inside the same house as her employer.  Her employer is typically her sponsor and responsible for her iqama.  Due to the challenges with some housemaids wishing to run away and “free lance” for more money, employers may not allow the housemaid to have possession of her iqama.  They may also limit the opportunities the housemaid has to go outside of the house.

Compared to the driver, the housemaid has a more isolated life which revolves around taking care of the family for whom she works.  Some families can be compassionate employers who treat the housemaid with kindness and give her regular times off.  Other families may have the housemaid work irregular hours determined at the beck and call of the family. 

The housemaid will usually be given a room within the home.  It depends on the family and their circumstances as to what kind of room the housemaid has to call her own.  Sometimes she will have her own room and bath and other times she may share with a young family member or even be given a cot to sleep upon in the kitchen.

Like the driver, the housemaid comes to Saudi Arabia to earn more money than she could otherwise receive back in her home country.  Most housemaids are from third world countries like Indonesia, Africa, Phillipines or India.  The housemaid usually wants to send most of her monthly pay back to her family.

Housemaids may have a network of support they can call upon if they have a mobile phone.  They may know of other housemaids from their home country who are also working in Saudi Arabia.  Additionally at large gatherings, housemaids from different families are brought together to work together.  At the same time, these housemaids will exchange numbers.

   The housemaid who has run away from an employer and “free lances” will usually share an apartment with other housemaids.  These women have to be careful and are fearful of being caught by authorities and unable to prove their legitimacy of being in the country.  They will pool their resources.  They may seem to have more freedom but at the same time live with an ongoing element of fear.

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10 Responses

  1. I wonder how you write this description, it amaze me how you bring what is happening in real life and put it in writing.

    The situation of housemaids is not very good. I have some suggestions:

    1- There must be more information about the host family to the housemaid when she in her country.

    2- Working hours must be no more than 8 hours at most.

    3- One day off during the week at least, and the housemaid could have a rest.

    4- It must be included in the contract that the family has to deliver the housemaid to the mall or the market if she needed twice a month at least.

    5- The salary has to be no less than 2000 saudi riyals and the Government has to support the people who are in urgent need for housemaid by paying some or all of the salary.

    6- There has to be social societies formed by volunteers from Saudis and other nationalities. Every nationality has its own society, for instance, society for Indonesian housemaids, Philipinians etc. These societies have close co-opreation with some Government agencies and the Embassies of these nationalities. These societies could have headquarter and branches in every province. These could do several services to make the life of the housemaids better and defend their rights. For instance:

    A-They could have write guidelines and instructions for the housemaids and give it to them in the Airport.

    B- They could have 24/7 phone line where the Housemaids could contact them and of course there has to be speaker of the language of the housemaids.

    C- These societies in different locations can co-operate with the Women Universities and women High schools where these schools could organise monthly social events for the housemaids. This week for Sirlankans Housemaids and the next for the Indonesians etc. And the employers has to be obliged in the contract to deliver his housemaid to this event or there could be a bus. These events are important because the housemaids can leave the house and socialise with people from her country and breath a fresh air. I am sure the girls in the unis or the schools will be happy to help their sisters and bring happiness to them.

    D- They could bring lawsuits on behalf of the housemaids against the wrongdoers employers also could prosecute the employers. There could be volunteers lawyers.

    This subject is huge and massive because it is involved right of people. Usually Saudi people complain about the rulers and royal family that they are tyrants, They do injustice to them. And the people need to look how they treat the workers in their houses, farms and companies. First they need to recognise that they mistreat those workers. They need to learn from some Western countries how people rights especially the vulnerable are reserved. When people of arabia say they are muslims they need to practice what islam tell them. The current situation is unacceptable. People of arabia need to remember that few centuries ago they couldn’t feed themselves and they need to immigrate to India or Egypt or Iraq to find work and feed themselves and bring something beck to their family. How quickly they forget. The wealth they have is not because Allah love them but it is a test for them. It has to be noticed though some employers are very nice indeed.

  2. few centuries ago , no it is only few decades

  3. I just finished a book about a lady who was a kitchen maid turned cook in England. I’d love to read a similar book by someone who was a housemaid or driver in Saudi. I imagine that would be incredibly interesting and revealing! Thanks for sharing this post!

  4. Susanne this what it might take, someone who has experienced it and write a blockbuster book to tell the world.

    Then later, if enough stories are told publicly, it may force the Saudi govn’t and citizens to pay attention. Change sometimes is instigated from within from brave few voices.

  5. I am always disappointed when you post stories about hired help in Saudi Arabia AB. I hyperventilate actually.
    The whole situation is wrong. Just because it is in SA does not make it right. Yes the hired help need to send money back to their poorer families in India etc. but they should be paid fairly and their work hours suitable for humans beings. Working conditions should not be based on the person’s status in life. How can expats sit back and watch the culture of Saudi women and their endless shopping, lack of parental duties etc. and not want to “throw up”?
    Reading between the lines of western women married into the system, once made very comfortable they go along and attempt to justify the status quo. Not good enough. In fact in our Aussie way I think “it stinks”
    Moonlight excellent points

  6. Question: can any man drive any woman? I know it is illegal for an unmarried man and woman to be alone together but then it is legal in a driving situation. Could a western woman living on a compound catch rides with men also living on the compound?

    I agree that a book about life as a live-in maid would be interesting.

  7. The housemaid situation is a complex one. To begin with, the family desiring a housemaid contracts an agency which specializes in bringing housemaids to the country. Now the agency may ask a series of questions about what kind of housemaid the family seeks (age, religion, nationality, languages, etc) but I found that other than the religious preference (Muslim or non-Muslim) none of the other requests will matter.

    The housemaid will in turn apply to an agency in her home country. She will agree upon a set salary before she leaves her home country. She will be told nothing in advance about the family for whom she will be working. She really won’t know until a representative from the family collects her.

    There is basically no oversight on the employment of housemaids. The hours worked and conditions are subject to the employer.

    I actually had set hours for my housemaid and a day off. She also had her own room with bath and of course central heating and a/c. We provided her with a tv and satellite channels. I received many comments that we treated our housemaid too well. Yet she also worked hard and did a great job. If we went out and took her with us, we would always feed her and let her do some of her own shopping too. I’d generally buy clothes for her every few months.

    Not all Saudis treat their housemaids badly. Much depends on the attitude and work ethics of the housemaid and much depends on the expectations of the employer.

  8. “The housemaid will in turn apply to an agency in her home country. She will agree upon a set salary before she leaves her home country. She will be told nothing in advance about the family for whom she will be working. She really won’t know until a representative from the family collects her. ”

    That’s not only a reality for housemaids. That’s pretty much what happens for anyone who seeks employment in Saudi Arabia :).

    I have mixed feelings about house help, but I do appreciate someone else cleaning the floors and bathrooms etc. Never had live-in help tho and I think that would take me some to to grow accustomed to. That’s mainly because I feel a little weird about someone who I’m not related to hanging around the house, waiting for me to give them things to do.

    A full-time driver, on the other hand, that would have been a god-send. I can’t imagine how much stress would have been removed from my life if I had one of them.

  9. Thanks to my housemaid – parttime that i managed to live in a close to sand-free home 🙂 and thank GOD for the driver, i would have gone craazy otherwise…

  10. Quite a good read. I would also recommend an invaluable book
    called PRICESS written by a Saudi Princess.

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