Widespread criticism over Gulf’s treatment of its migrant workers has generated an online market for buying and selling domestic help.
Oil-rich Gulf countries are notorious for their treatment of migrant workforce.
Over the past few years, criticism over this particular issue has grown exponentially, especially in the wake of Qatar’s abuse of migrant workers building projects for the FIFA world cup in 2022.
As the criticism and ensuing calls for reform have grown, so have the underground markets for buying and selling migrant workers, especially domestic help.
BBC Trending recently found several private Facebook groups that are bypassing local laws and regulations to, what essentially sounds like, trade of domestic servants between maids and potential “buyers” or employers in wealthy Arab countries like Saudi Arabia.
In the Gulf, the controversial labor sponsorship system – known as the “kafala” – requires employees to obtain the permission of their bosses to leave the country or switch jobs. Wealthy employers even confiscate passports of their workers in most cases. This has long contributed to the mass abuse of expat workforce in oil-rich Arab countries.
Moreover, since the arrangements are often done via recruitment agencies, people hailing from underdeveloped South and Far-East Asian countries, looking for jobs, more often than not have to come up with impossible sums of money to pay the agents.
BBC Trending found online black markers help workers to bypass this system and some costs associated with it.
“The main reason social media recruitment is attractive to employers is going through a recruitment agency can be very expensive,” Vani Saraswathi of Migrant Rights, an advocacy group based in Qatar, told BBC. “For a contract period, you have to pay anything from $2,500 to $5,000 (£2,000 to £4,000)… if you go through social media, you don’t have to pay any of this.”
Although such private online groups are thriving, online buying and selling of maids in Arab countries has been going on publicly as well.
In 2015, a Saudi employer reportedly offered his Sri Lankan housemaid for SR25,000 (approximately USD 164) in an advertisement published on a local auction website.
In March, digital video platform StepFeed reported how someone in Lebanon had listed a housekeeper “for sale” on OLX, an Argentinian global online marketplace.
In a statement emailed to the wesbite, OLX stated such ads did not break any laws, adding they “help domestic workers find suitable employment as long as they wish to stay in [a] country.”