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Saudi Arabia and Indonesia sign bilateral agreement on domestic workers

On September 5, 2022

Following several official deployment bans over the years, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia signed a bilateral agreement on 11 August 2022 that aims to increase the number of Indonesian domestic workers in the Kingdom.

According to the Saudi Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development (MHRSD), the agreement will allow Saudi recruitment companies to directly recruit Indonesian domestic workers through a "single-channel system," which aims to simplify the recruitment process and “protect the rights of all parties involved in the contractual relationship.” According to local reports, this mechanism will allow 43 designated recruitment companies to conduct direct recruitment of Indonesian domestic workers.

In Saudi Arabia, "recruitment companies" (unlike regular recruitment offices) are establishments that provide domestic work services on an hourly live-out basis or monthly/short-term live-in basis under their sponsorship. There are several recruitment companies in Saudi Arabia, with the largest ones, such as SMASCO (Raha), serving over 20,000 customers daily in 57 different cities across the Kingdom. According to a recent SMASCO (Raha) advertisement, the current cost of hiring Indonesian domestic workers begins at SAR3499 (932 US$) for one month of live-in work. It is unclear what percentage of this fee is the domestic worker's wages.

In 2011, Indonesia imposed a total deployment ban of domestic workers to Saudi Arabia after the Saudi government executed Ruyati binti Sapubi, an Indonesian domestic worker who killed the employer she claimed abused her. Following the ban, the two countries went back and forth imposing their own bans and negotiating conditions for recruitment to resume. In 2017, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia agreed to formally resume hiring Indonesian domestic workers through recruitment companies.

Many recruitment agencies that Migrant-Rights.Org spoke to in the past mentioned that Indonesian domestic workers are among the most in-demand in the Saudi labour market. Okaz reported that at the time of the 2011 ban, Indonesian domestic workers had been considered “the backbone of the domestic labour market in the Kingdom” with their numbers exceeding 600,000.

While recruitment offices were unable to directly recruit domestic workers from Indonesia, recruitment companies have been able to do so by exploiting a loophole in which domestic workers from Indonesia were hired on regular work visas rather than domestic workers visas. However, this procedure was costly, and there were few Indonesian domestic workers in the Saudi labour market as a result. The new agreement is intended to “accelerate the inflow of Indonesian domestic workers” and lower the cost of services offered by recruitment companies. However, Indonesian domestic workers would still not be allowed to be directly recruited by individual employers.

As we reported previously, the Saudi government’s response to deployment bans — often implemented by origin countries due to pervasive abuse — has been a race to the bottom to expand labour agreements with several origin countries, rather than improving protections for domestic workers.