Written by: Raji Unnikrishnan
Employment agencies illegally offering housemaids by the hour face a crackdown from authorities, despite a leading workers’ rights activist’s calls to legalise the practice. Responding to recent reports of agency cars driving around Manama advertising ‘housemaid services on hourly basis’, Labour Ministry Under-Secretary Sabah Al Dossary told the GDN that these businesses were circumventing the law by cutting deals with third-party cleaning companies.
‘This is illegal, as we have stressed many times in the past,’ he said.
‘We have learnt that some agencies are getting around restrictions on the hiring of domestic workers by entering into agreements with cleaning companies.
‘But the law stipulates specific requirements for the hiring of domestic workers ‘“ especially housemaids ‘“ which is done for a reason, and anyone finding a way to twist the law will not be tolerated.’
Mr Al Dossary said that since June 1, when new Labour Market Regulatory Authority rules came into effect, the number of companies offering ‘hourly housemaid’ services had increased as agencies tried to avoid the new stipulation that they must maintain a bank balance of BD10,000.
This BD10,000 from each company is intended to act as a ring-fenced fund that guarantees the recruiting agent has money available to deal with any disputes between domestic workers and their sponsors ‘“ such as the non-payment of wages.
‘Cleaning companies and people recruited by them are different and they cannot be branded as domestic workers,’ he said.
‘We have learnt that these agencies are doing this after the LMRA introduced stricter regulations on the hiring of domestic workers.’
When contacted by the GDN, a spokesman for Valentine Cleaning Company ‘“ which offers so-called ‘hourly housemaids’’“ said that they had a permit from the LMRA allowing them provide such a service.
However, LMRA public relations and media manager Hana Al Saffar refuted these claims.
‘This is wrong and the LMRA has not issued any such licence to any agency,’ she said.
‘This is illegal and the authority is surprised to hear such blatant violation of the law is going on.
‘We will investigate the matter and action will be taken.’
Meanwhile, Migrant Workers Protection Society (MWPS) chairwoman Mariatta Dias was surprised to hear that the practice was illegal.
‘I myself had seen this vehicle many times out on the roads and have noted the number down, thinking it was legal,’ she said.
‘Since officials say it is illegal, it must be punished, but such a service would help people who need part-time household help.
‘As of now, the legal procedure to get a full time housemaid is a long drawn-out process and mostly people only need help for two to three hours a day.
‘So I hope the authorities legalise this.’
Ms Dias also called for an awareness drive to make it clear that ‘hourly housemaids’ were illegal.
‘I know many don’t know that this is illegal, and people who opt to use these services should demand to see the agency’s licence, which I think most don’t,’ she added.