Many employers are reluctant to allow their ‘housemaids’ a phone. The reasons vary from ‘her own safety’ to ‘she will be distracted from work’. Other reasons include ‘the more she speaks to her family the more homesick she will be’, ‘she will talk to her boyfriend’, and ‘if she talks to other maids, our security is at threat.’
We talked to some Gulf employers about their phone policy. Most said they restricted phone access in some way, citing general distrust, privacy concerns, and concerns about productivity. Others denied access to a mobile phone almost entirely.
Some employers told us their maids had phones, while others they some years to build a trust relationship with the maids before giving them a phone. Others said the maids had phones without cameras because it could be a way for them to send pictures of themselves to men. The most common restrictions for using a mobile phone included the prohibition of using the Internet or a camera.
Other employers prohibited or restricted mobile phones usage because they believed it distracted domestic workers from their work. In some instances the phone stays with the employer, and the domestic worker has to ask when wanting to use it.
Employers’ concerns can be addressed through agreements in workers’ contractors, and by clearly communicating expectations with domestic workers. Access to communication is an essential right of workers, and increasingly features in bilateral agreements between Gulf and origin countries. The right to speak with family and friends benefits both domestic workers, and the employer/employee relationship.
*Employers are not the only ones controlling migrant domestic workers’ access to mobile phones; recruitment agencies also confiscate mobile phones while they are in training centers.