Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development (MHRSD) has updated regulations that permit domestic workers to switch employers without their current employer’s permission under certain conditions.
The two new provisions are:
- If it is proven that the services of the domestic worker have been transferred to another employer without his or her knowledge or consent;
- If the employer terminated the labour contract during the probationary period.
The previous regulations allow — on paper — for domestic workers to transfer their services without their current employer’s consent in the following circumstances as well:
- If it is proven that the domestic worker’s wage has been withheld for three consecutive months or intermittent months without any legitimate reason related to the domestic worker;
- If the employer fails to pick up the domestic worker from the port of arrival or the shelters within 15 days from the date of arrival in Saudi Arabia;
- If the employer fails to issue or renew a residency permit (even after 30 days from its expiry date) for the domestic worker;
- If the employer gives the services of the domestic worker to others;
- If it is proven that the employer or a member of his family has abused the domestic worker;
- If the domestic worker files a complaint against the employer, and the employer delays the process of investigating the allegation;
- If the employer files a false runaway (huroob) report against the domestic worker
- If the employer or their representative fails to appear before the domestic workers’ dispute settlement committees for two sessions;
- If the employer is absent due to travel, imprisonment, or any other reason, failing to pay the domestic worker’s wages.
- Upon the recommendation of the competent authority, during considering the complaint in order to avoid any potential damages that may occur to the worker.
- Any other individual or general cases decided by the Minister.
Outside of these limited conditions, domestic workers cannot change employers unless they secure their employer’s permission.
While expanding the conditions that allow domestic workers to transfer employers more freely is a welcome move, there have not been corresponding reforms to enhance regulation of domestic work or to make complaints mechanisms easily accessible to workers themselves.
Though data on the number of complaints, resolutions, or successful transfers are not publicly available, poor conditions are evident from the accounts of domestic workers and the intermittent deployment bans from origin countries.
Migrant domestic workers cannot easily navigate the bureaucracy needed to complete the transfer of sponsorship, especially without assistance. Workers can only transfer employment when another sponsor is willing to employ them, pay the service fees for transferring sponsorship, as well as the cost of accommodating the worker at the government shelters during the period the domestic worker stayed there. Finding a new employer is also not straightforward, as workers who have reported violations and meet the criteria for transfer are often kept in government shelters, or accommodation belonging to their sponsors or recruitment agencies.
The obstacles domestic workers face in transferring employers were highlighted in the 2022 Trafficking In Persons Report, which found that "...in some cases, domestic workers who experienced such circumstances were not able to change employers or obtain exit permits."
“In one example, when a domestic worker attempted to contact police to change sponsors after she experienced non-payment of wages, extremely long working hours, and physical abuse, the police located her and transferred her to a detention center.”
Domestic workers are excluded from the country’s recent labour reforms and remain among the least protected workers in the Kingdom.