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Policy Brief

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Policy Brief

  1. 1. To: Prof. Melanie Tanielian, Director, International Labour Organization CC: Maab Ibrahim, assistant to Prof. Tanielian From: 26487169, Policy Analyst, International Labour Organization Date: April 30, 2015 Re: Rights of Ethiopian Migrant Workers in Yemen Executive Summary: This policy brief will focus on the mistreatment of Ethiopian women migrant domestic workers in Yemen under the Kafala system. My policy recommendations are consistent with the terms of the International Labour Organization’s Decent Work for Domestic Workers program. Fixing the problem will have to involve approaching many angles. On one level is reforming the Kafala system or getting rid of it altogether. Another is pressuring the Yemeni government to establish and enforce more ethical labor and immigration laws. Finally, we would give employers incentive to treat their domestic workers like human beings worthy of basic needs and respect. Background: Migrant workers who find domestic work in Middle Eastern countries work under among the worst working conditions in the worldi. Women from Ethiopia make up a large percentage of these workers. Most of them have families that they send money home to support. Due to institutionalized racism and sexism both in the Kafala system and in countries that employ the workers, Ethiopian women are one of the most devalued groups among migrant domestic workers. They are sent to the least valued jobs and are treated the worst by their employersii. Under the Kafala system that is used in countries such as Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and many others, these workers are manipulated into slave labor. They are required to have a sponsor who takes their passport away. They are forbidden to organize with other workers in their positions. Employers pay them whatever they want, which is usually close to nothing. There is no limit to how many hours their employers can force them to work. Employers are often physically and sexually abusive. They have to get an exit visa to go home. There is nobody to ensure that they understand the terms of their contracts, which are usually only written in English and Arabic, not their native languageiii.
  2. 2. Yemen is a particularly heinous example of these problems. Though they are one of the poorer countries in the Gulf region, there is a high demand for domestic workers from other countriesiv. These jobs are extremely devalued to the point that most citizens consider them to be beneath their dignityv. Their immigration laws make it easy for these workers to get into the country but difficult to get out. To avoid this problem, many workers go through illegal channels. This eliminates the bureaucracy, but gives them even less protection than they had beforevi. Analysis and Recommendations: Many of the problems that contribute to this crisis stem from the Kafala system itselfvii. Therefore, I suggest that we reform it or eliminate it altogether. If eliminating it is not a reasonable option, there are improvements that could make it far less abusive to the workers. These improvements include not allowing sponsors to take workers’ passports, including instruction of the language that is spoken in the country where they will work in the program, providing interpreters and legal aid to make sure workers know their rights, eliminating the exit visa requirement, and allowing workers to organize for their interests. Another significant source of the travesty that migrant women in Yemen face is the Yemeni government itself. They are completely aware that migrant workers are brutally mistreated in their country and do very little about itviii. Their inefficient immigration laws make it safer for migrants to go through illegal channels, which is a significant indicator of failure on the government’s part. Another gaping legal problem for migrant workers in Yemen is that they are excluded from the country’s already insufficient labor lawsix. The bare minimum to attack the problem from this angle would be to include migrant workers in existing labor laws. However, this would not eliminate the cruelty that the workers experience. Reforms such as a minimum wage that is enough for workers to care for their families, restrictions on the number of hours that employers can demand from workers and workplace safety regulations are a necessary next step. The most direct cause of the mistreatment of migrant workers is the employers themselvesx. There needs to be a system in place to monitor employer’s treatment of workers. This could involve random inspections by labor inspectors and an improved system for reporting abusive incidents. Both the employers and the workers would be well aware that these exist. However, employers’ view of their domestic help as too dispensable and cheap to treat like human beings is not something that can be completely stopped by better laws and stricter enforcement. Shorter hours, better pay, and not feeling threatened by their boss will increase worker morale and productivity.
  3. 3. The responsibility of putting pressure on these offending parties lies primarily with the international community. Appealing to their morality would probably not work. Both the government and the Kafala agents probably know that manipulating people into slave labor, which is exactly what they are doing, is wrong. They keep using this system because they do not see anything in it for them. Though I am not normally an advocate for rewarding people for basic human decency, incentivizing fair treatment of migrant domestic workers may be what it takes to solve the problem. Conclusion: The horrible mistreatment of Ethiopian migrant workers in gulf countries such as Yemen is a huge international human rights problem, but is certainly one that can be diminished. It will not be easy and requires approaches from a variety of actors in the international community, the governments, agencies, and employers alike. Every person deserves to be able to provide for themselves and their families in a safe and healthy work environment that they can leave if they want to. It is our job in the international labor organization to collaborate with others to make that possible. i INTRODUCTORY NOTE TO THE DECENT WORK FOR DOMESTIC WORKERS CONVENTION, 2011 (NO. 189) AND RECOMMENDATION (NO. 201).(2014). International Legal Materials,53(1),250–266. ii De Regt, M. (2009).Preferences and Prejudices:Employers’ Views on Domestic Workers in the Republic of Yemen. Signs:Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 34(3),559–581 iii Fernandez, B. (n.d.). Cheap and disposable? The impactof the global economic crisis on the migration of Ethiopian women domestic workers to the Gulf. Gender and Development. iv De Regt, M. (n.d.). WAYS TO COME, WAYS TO LEAVE: Gender, Mobility,and Il/legality amongEthiopian Domestic Workers in Yemen. Gender and Society. v De Regt, M. (n.d.). WAYS TO COME, WAYS TO LEAVE: Gender, Mobility,and Il/legal ity amongEthiopian Domestic Workers in Yemen. Gender and Society. vi DE REGT, M. (n.d.). WAYS TO COME, WAYS TO LEAVE: Gender, Mobility,and Il/legality amongEthiopian Domestic Workers in Yemen. Gender and Society. vii Hune, S. (n.d.). MigrantWomen in the Context of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.International Migration Review. viii Human Rights Watch.(2014). Yemen’s Torture Camps: Abuse of Migrants by Human Traffickers in a Climate of Impunity. ix De Regt, M. (2009).Preferences and Prejudices:Employers’ Views on Domestic Workers in the Republic of Yemen. Signs:Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 34(3),559–581. x DJAMBA, Y. K., GOLDSTEIN, S., & GOLDSTEIN, A. (n.d.). Gender differences in occupational mobility in Ethiopia:the effects of migration and economic and political change.Genus.

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