Reverse Victimization Strikes Again

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Aug 2 2012

We rarely feature stories from Oman because, unlike in Kuwait and the UAE, the issues facing migrant workers receive little domestic coverage. It is not unsurprising, then, that one of the few pieces pertaining to migrant workers focuses primarily on employer issues. This article published by the Oman Observer employs the ever-popular narrative of “employer victimization,” which as a whole works to overshadow the significantly more acute struggles of migrant workers.

The article is characterized by the same arguments as its predecessors; the author makes a few cursory mentions of employer abuse and its role in the “absconding phenomenon. ” But he abruptly shifts to the real heart of his grievances: the alleged exploitation of employers by recruitment agencies and conspiring maids. His article is tailored as an appeal for an immediate government resolution, exclusive of corresponding regulations for sponsors.

As in most cases, the author-employer’s claims appear unconvincingly dramatized. This author latches on to the prevailing accusations of conspiracy between recruitment agencies and domestic workers, but offers little concrete evidence: He states,

We can assume that there was a previous deal between the offices and the housemaids because they provide them with phone numbers in order to arrange for absconding after the warrantee period is over in a few months time.

The keyword is assume, the only form of support the author’s increasingly entangled argument rests upon. He goes on to state that maids seek illegal employment once they've successfully bamboozled an unsuspecting employer. But why would a domestic worker chose to remain in a Gulf country illegally - and thus without the law's meager protections - if he or she has already secured legal employment? Why would a migrant to choose to almost certainly work for less money and in worse conditions by virtue of their undocumented status? Especially if he or she could purportedly enjoy better conditions by simply remaining with the intended employer?

"Absconding" workers are rarely the scheming thieves employers make them out to be. Rather, they are almost exclusively runaway workers who flee abuse, and who face deportation among other severe penalties. They may leave without word because the sponsorship system allows them few options to terminate employment or even redress grievances.

Furthermore, this article makes no mention of the fact that maids themselves are frequently the victims of recruitment agency fraud. John Monterona, Mideast coordinator of Migrante International, states that

Out of every 10 domestic workers coming to the Gulf, seven or eight of them will have problems with agencies as far as contracts are concerned.

Sending-countries as well as rights groups have documented the chronic exploitation of prospective migrant workers by recruitment agencies, which begins in the home-country and continues months into employment. Agencies often charge unnecessarily excessive fees, impose unfair repayment schemes, and misrepresent employment opportunities. Domestic workers are even more vulnerable to recruitment agencies that appear to corroborate with employers.

Most agencies tell maids they cannot have a mobile phone, meaning they cannot call their families, and advise employers not to let maids leave the house alone.

In this interview, a recruitment agent confirms that employers are sometimes advised to underpay maids. Employers also knowingly use illegal recruitment agencies that either financially exploit workers or traffic them into the country. This allows both parties to bypass the Gulf’s modest labor regulations.

Such slanted articles not only endure apathy towards employer abuse, but furthermore justify employer misconduct; Domestic workers are rendered dangerous figures, and employers are essentially implored to “defend” themselves by violating migrants’ basic rights. Employers consider confiscating passports, forbidding cellphone use, and denying time off as necessary to ensure their maids do not have the means to abscond. These draconian measures - the denial of a maids personal freedoms and labor rights - are explicitly defended by the author.

Perhaps such lamentations could be more persuasive if the authors called for a comprehensive overhaul of the abusive sponsorship system or for enshrining any legal rights for domestic workers. But their pieces are almost exclusively concerned with the deficiencies in the law that affect employers; it is not the inherently unjust system that is at issue, but rather that these failed policies can potentially render them the victims of exploitation.

Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East