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Employers claim victimization

On March 19, 2012

The victimization of employers is an increasingly recurrent theme in news reports across the Mideast region; several weeks ago we featured a sympathy-seeking opinion piece from a Saudi employer ‘fed up’ with the exploitative behavior of recruitment agencies. He was not so much concerned with the debt and deceptive contracts that migrant workers endure because of unfair agency conduct, but rather with the cost and inconvenience faced by employers. The Saudi government appeared responsive to such complaints, as they pressured at least one migrant-sending nation to reform agency rules and improve their monitoring procedures - for the sake of Saudi employers.

The Arab Times recently featured commentary on statements made by a Kuwaiti government official which indicate that similar sentiments have been echoed by Kuwaiti employers. The opinion piece quotes promises made by the Minister of Social Affairs and Labor to address the financial burdens created by recruitment agencies, which have reportedly risen considerably in the past year. The columnist expresses dissatisfaction not only with the government’s slow response to employment agency tricks, but to the "variety" of available domestic workers. He repeatedly objectifies domestic workers, complaining of the difficulty in controlling them, and in returning unfavorable workers to the agency for a “full refund.”

As with the previous Saudi piece, this article correctly identifies the exploitive tendencies of many recruitment agencies while failing to address the much more grievous harm caused to migrant workers. The expense and inconvenience employers experience are generally incomparable to the difficulties faced by migrants. Migrant workers are often forced to accept employment conditions without any say, or are completely deceived of their employment prospects. Many are forced into years-long debt to pay the inflated and sometimes hidden fees that agencies charge. Furthermore, migrants are largely unable to redress their economic and emotional frustration to authorities; the height of their turmoil inflicted by recruitment agencies occurs within a foreign country, often physically or otherwise effectively distant from any receptive government institution. In severe but frequent cases, they are rendered virtually powerless until their debt is repaid and their contracts are expired. And yet, migrant workers are implicated in this “web of deception,” as if they had the means or reason to concoct such strategic schemes.

It will be informative to compare the pace of legislation between those policies which effect employers and those which affect migrants. In our previous article we speculated that recruitment agency reform may result in an overall improvement in the livelihood of migrant workers - the caveat being a reaffirmed precedent for legislation that prioritizes employer desires over migrant worker needs. The dependency of migrant rights legislation on employers inherently disadvantages domestic workers, as calls for the "regulation of the service sector" have yet to encompass the largely invisible domestic sphere.