In a two-part exploration of Saudi's Musaned's system, we analyse the platform that promises to clean up domestic worker recruitment in the Kingdom.
Launched in 2015, the domestic labour recruitment website Musaned has become a household name in Saudi Arabia. Hailed as the “nucleus of the positive transformation of [domestic labour] recruitment services” around the time of its launch, the site processes around 90% of applications for domestic worker visas in the country.
Musaned has introduced regulations and processes to streamline recruitment procedures for employers in Saudi. Prospective customers can hire a domestic worker without the need to visit a recruitment agency. They can obtain a domestic worker e-visa from Musaned in no more than three days, provided they meet certain financial, social and legal criteria. For each visa, the costs involved include Musaned fees of SAR 150 (USD 40) and the e-visa costs SAR 2000 (USD 530).
Employers’ access to information in the recruitment market has improved with the introduction of Musaned. The website contains a database of hundreds of profiles of licensed Saudi recruitment agencies. Each profile includes a list of countries from where domestic workers hail, the cost of recruitment, and the expected waiting period.
Musaned allows employers to submit preferences for age, religion, and previous work experience to the recruitment agency of their choice. In response, agencies provide customers with up to five CVs of domestic workers to choose from. Once a decision is made, the employer can proceed with paying recruitment fees and signing an e-contract with the recruitment agency. This e-contract is distinct from the contract between the employer and the domestic worker, which is often signed in the origin country between the Saudi agency (on behalf of the employer) and the domestic worker before she or he arrives in the Kingdom.
The processing steps are as follows: Saudi agencies submit an application to the domestic worker’s embassy in Riyadh for review; take for example Sri Lanka. The application specifies a counterpart recruitment agency in Sri Lanka. If approved, the embassy sends the information to the recruitment agency in Sri Lanka via the Musaned system. Once the Sri Lanka-based agency receives an application, it begins the training process for the domestic worker, prepares her paperwork, and facilitates his/her travel to Saudi Arabia.
The Domestic Labour Crisis of the 2010s
Several aspects that sustained a seemingly orderly domestic labour market in Saudi Arabia began to falter in the early 2010s. Indonesia banned domestic workers to Saudi Arabia, citing human rights concerns and lack of protection for their citizens. Indonesia, together with the Philippines, stressed the need for a new bilateral agreement to regulate the migration of domestic workers to the Kingdom. Uganda signed an MoU and then put a halt to deployment of workers for similar reasons. Ethiopia banned migration from 2013 to 2018. Concerns over domestic worker’s dwindling supply of female domestic workers in the country, skyrocketing recruitment fees, and long waiting periods in an environment of severe dependence on domestic services created a panic in the labour market. The recession in the oil economy meant that many Saudis could not afford the lifestyle and spending patterns they were used to during the boom of the 2000s, especially since many domestic workers refused to settle for low pay and lack of benefits, requesting higher salaries and proper end of service benefits.
Saudis – government officials, businessmen, journalists and domestic worker employers – aggressively debated causes and solutions to what the media dubbed as the “domestic labour crisis.” Newspaper columnists and TV hosts criticised the questionable practices by recruitment agencies. Many wondered why the Ministry of Labour failed to avoid the “crisis”. Others urged the government to investigate the rampant domestic worker trade in the “black market.” Many called for a determined resolution to the “runways phenomenon.” Some unabashedly increased their dehumanising rhetoric against domestic workers. However, the majority attacked the demands by labour-sending countries, mainly Indonesia and the Philippines. Media outlets dismissed demands from Indonesian and Filippino governments, such as a “character” reference of a potential employer, declaration of number of people in the household, the blueprint of the house – as outrageous, unrealistic and intrusive.
The “Domestic Labour Crisis” coincided with a time when human rights, regardless of what it meant to various actors and stakeholders, became a popular topic in Saudi public discourse. Additionally, scrutinising Saudi’s human rights record became a rallying point for the Kingdom’s critics in the post-9/11 era. Institutionalising human rights norms was not only a necessity in this atmosphere, especially during the uncertainties of the Arab Spring, but it also was a vital part of the Saudi government campaign to rebrand itself.
It was in this context that the Saudi Ministry of Labour (now the Ministry of Labour and Social Development, MLSD) inaugurated Musaned, along with various other measures aimed at organising the domestic labour market and appeasing labour-sending countries. Such measures included: (1) passing the Domestic Labour Law in November of 2013 which offers some protections to domestic workers for the first time in Saudi Arabia; (2) Issuing the Rules and Conditions for Recruitment in the 2013 Executive Regulation of the Labour Law (refined further in 2018) to clampdown on illegal recruitment practices. The Rules outline several steps that agencies are required to adhere to in order to operate legally in the Kingdom. Such rules include having minimum capital deposits, strict application criteria, and linking the agency database to the Musaned system.
Notably, the Rules allowed businesses to establish large corporations, with at least a minimum capital deposit of SAR100 Million (USD375 million), that can offer on-demand, time-specific (hourly, daily or monthly) domestic labour. It was argued that allowing those enterprises, known in Saudi Arabia as Cleaning Companies (CC), will lower the prices, reduce the waiting period and ensure a sufficient supply of trained workers. CCs are required to register in the Electronic Portal of the MLSD instead of Musaned.
Musaned for Recruitment Agencies
The major change that Musaned has introduced in the recruitment market is electronic contracting, known as e-tawtheeq or the International Contracting System (ICS). ICS simplifies the process of communication between the Saudi embassy in the home country, the home country’s embassy in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi recruitment agency, and its counterpart in the home country.
Through ICS, Saudi recruitment agencies input their licensed counterparts’ information (name of the agency, address, and contacts) and publish their partnership agreement. This informs Saudi and non-Saudi officials and embassy staff, who have access to Musaned, of the authenticity of a partnership. Officials’ approval of recruitment requests can be processed electronically.
Using ICS, agencies in home countries can utilise a candidate listing feature, or an HR Pool, where they can post CVs of all domestic workers ready for employment. This HR pool can be accessed by Saudi partner agencies, providing them with insight into the availability of domestic workers in certain countries, along with their skills and experience.
Additionally, ICS facilitates the arbitration of disputes between agencies. Agencies can file complaints against each other, and authorities will take appropriate actions to resolve the complaint.
Social Media and Customer Support
Musaned maintains an active presence on social media. Its Twitter and Facebook accounts are not only used to raise awareness about the procedures of hiring domestic workers, but also to respond to users questions and concerns. While many of those questions are technical of nature (issues with log in or navigating the website), others are confrontational and reflect widespread frustration with domestic worker recruitment.
For example, Twitter user Mohamed Alrowili (@Af4Rt) directed a question at @Musaned_DL, saying: “Is Musaned designed to help domestic labour not the citizen or kafeel, especially at a time when recruitment agencies are clearly irresponsible?” Musaned account responded: “Dear customer, Musaned is an electronic platform that streamlines the recruitment procedures in an unprecedented fashion … it aims to … increase the protection of the rights of all parties. It raises the awareness of both employers and domestic workers of their rights and duties.” Musaned emphasises that the Ministry of Labour regional office (The Labour Offices) are the entities responsible for addressing complaints and disputes between employers and domestic workers.
As Musaned continues to develop to include more services and reach a wider audience, it remains to be seen whether the MLSD will consider improvements not only the system’s functionality and accessibility, but also its value and contribution to advancing the rights of domestic workers. Five years later, it is still widely reported that domestic workers in the Kingdom continue to face the possibility of exploitation and abuse without the means, support, and knowledge of navigating the legal system to voice concerns and raise complaints.
This article is part of a series of Migrant-Rights.org research and analysis on the recruitment of domestic workers and their living and working conditions.