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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Cheap Labor and attitudes…

I am appalled at the lack of compassion that I see towards the workers who come here and get paid pennies on the dollar.
If you want to speak to some locals over here about the dark side of the cheap labor in UAE, many times they will not want to go into a long conversation about it. Usually the replies from them are full of justifications for it, and if you try to push your view further, they end the conversation by saying, “It was their choice to come here to work. If they don’t like it they should stay back home.”
It isn’t really as simple as that. Yes, maybe a 500 Dirham a month salary is more than they can make back home. But is a 500 Dirham a month really a fair wage for the work that they do and especially in a country that has money?
For the locals, I suppose growing up seeing them all their lives just makes it one more normal thing out of their everyday normal lives and easy to just ignore. But it really isn’t only the locals who don’t feel any compassion toward them. Perhaps at first a newly arrived expat will be horrified, but after a while it just becomes normal to them as well.
Even after living her for a little over four years, it still breaks my heart all the time when I see the construction workers working hard, knowing they are getting paid so little. It breaks more when seeing them working out in the open sun during the really hot months. It angers me when I can see construction workers on the buses being taken too or from work and the buses are not equipped with air conditioning. You can see windows open and every window has those small electric fans clipped to them instead. Believe me, that is not enough to cool you off in the soaring desert heat of the summer months!
It breaks my heart to think that they are exploited both back in their home countries as well as over here. Back in their home countries, some companies go to poor villages and promise the poor villagers good employment with good salaries, and for others they go to recruiting agencies who promise good jobs. For either one, they have to pay a big sum of money to get hired. They usually have to sell things they own and take loans with high interest in order to pay these companies.
Then they get to the Middle East and their salaries are a lot lower than what were promised. Then they spend years paying back these high interest loans instead of the money going for the betterment of their families’ lives.
I was speaking to one sister one day about the low salaries for an Indian construction worker….and she actually said
“Don’t you know 100 Dirhams is over 1,200 Rupees in India? Its a loooot of money for them!”
I had to actually explain to her that it only sounds like a lot of money because she is thinking as if 100 Dirhams was the same as over 1,000 Dirhams in India and that is wrong… and that something that costs 1 Dirham here isn’t 1 Rupee over there… it would be more like 12 Rupees.

I would also like to add that it is not all locals who feel nothing towards these people...I know locals who will randomly give some money to these poor workers like the ones who clean the streets, the janitors of buildings, etc...

A local sister I know told me that at her work there are Office Boys from India. The company she worked for hired a company to provide these workers. These office workers do all the running around and menial stuff for everyone— meaning the ones with the more decent to excellent salaries (salaries based on what country you are from). Each floor at her work had an “Office Boy” and the one on her floor she said that he probably worked the hardest out of everyone on the floor.
She got to talking to him one day and slowly she asked more and more about his situation. He worked 6 days a week, from 7am until 7pm and only had one day off a week. His salary was 500 Dirhams (US $136) a month. And out of that 500, he had to give 150 of it to the company he was with every single month--so he was left over with 350 Dirhams (US $95) a month for himself. He was provided accommodation but there were 5 or 6 guys to a room. On top of that, no one was allowed to use the kitchen!!! They had to get all of their own food from outside. He was sending whatever money leftover that he could save back home to his family.
This sister started telling others on her floor about him and so they started bringing him food and then once every month, this sister went around and collected donations from everyone to give to him, and everyone except one person pitched in Mashallah.
The one who didn’t pitch in? Her manager who was Indian—the same country the Office Boy was from—who was making a very very good salary. She told me that the Indian manager was really really rude to the Office Boy and always looked down on him. When she asked him to pitch in some money he just turned his nose up and said “no.”
How sad that he would look down on someone who was from his own country just because he was poor! Astagferallah.
Then there is the stories from our maids at our home here. One worked for another local family for 1 week and was so horrified she told them she wanted to be taken back to the Agency she was brought over with (maids are allowed to go back or us who are able to hire maids are allowed to take a new maid back to the agency and then we get the agency fee fully refunded—for up to 3 months)
Let us call her Maria (not her real name of course!) She told me how when the house driver picked her up from the Agency and was taking her to the home, he actually told her she should run away and become an illegal but independent maid. She had no idea why he was telling her this, but she soon found out why.
When Maria first met the Employer who hired her—a very verrry wealthy family I might add-- she was told to come and see how she should respond to her when called. Another housemaid came to demonstrate (they had several housemaids for their huge home.) The woman called for the maid and that maid came running as if there was no tomorrow and enthusiastically said, “Yes Madam, yes.” Maria just thought, “… ok.” The next thing she knows later on, the woman called for her. She says she approached the woman normally and said, “Yes Madam.” - Her employer got angry and told her she needed to do it just like the other maid had demonstrated!
On top of that… when it came to food allowances. They only got to eat bread with cheese and white rice with simple Saloonas (Arabic style stews). They were allowed to have 1 tea bag a day but no milk whatsoever. And she said the kitchen pantry was stocked with a ton of it (the locals use canned evaporated milk with their tea.)
And worst of all Maria witnessed her employer hitting the maids, and cussing at them in English with things like “Fuck you!!” Maria wasn’t there long enough to start getting hit by her. And in the end she ended up at our house (where she is still working for us.)
We just got another maid a couple of weeks ago. When she first arrived at the house and went to meet my mother in law (MIL), my MIL greeted her and told her a few things and also that she is welcome to cook whatever she wants to eat if she doesn’t like the house food. The maid got teary-eyed and thanked her and said that her last employer only let her eat once a day!! And that once a day meal was whatever was leftover from what the family ate! Astagferallah!
There are all kinds of stories out there… although it is also important to note that not all families mistreat their maids. I know families that treat them very well as well, Alhamdulillah for them. And also, where there is mistreatment of maids, it is not exclusiveto the locals.


  1. Salaam,

    OMG thats so sad!! And the stories about the maids -- well all I can say is ALHAMDULILLAH we have a more healthier attitude towards how they should be treated.

    OKay my maid Jule always responds "yes Madame" when I call because I hate raising my voice. Sometimes our other maid does hear me the first time but doesn't acknowledge it so I am saying her name louder & louder until she comes to wherever I am.

    As for eating.. They know they can eat whatever they want from the kitchen, WHENEVER. I felt bad when I realized our new maid thought she wasn't "allowed" to eat anything other than rice & a meat.

    I gave the maids their own TV, phones and laptop but I made sure that we have an understanding: Be sure to complete your chores because this is what I am paying you for.

    I know for a fact that when another one of their expats ask them "how is your Madame" (meaning am I a bitch and/or beat them) they say that I am "good" and they (in their own words) would rather stay at my apartment than work at another house. Sometimes if they do something I will threaten them that I *could* release them back to their original sponser -- this does the trick ;-)

    Alhamdulillah I treat them properly and they in turn take care of things beautifully.

  2. As Salaam Alaikum,

    MashaAllah this was a nice post. It was heartening to read about the office boy receiving help. May Allah bless those people.

    Whenever I read the newspapers here, it is sad to read that the ones who are helping the construction workers with extra food and clothing are mostly Western expats. I haven't heard of any other nationalities or locals doing so.

  3. Very very heartbreaking and sad, for both the treatment of the maids and the worker from India. How could people be so cruel? Alhamdulilah she works for you now. I know she's treated well. Masha'a'Allah.

  4. I so agree about the bad treatment of some staff in UAE. It is one thing I hated and never understood.
    I saw many local friends treat their house staff like crap, with such poor wages making them work 18hours a day.

    Before the law was brought in that workmen had to be taken to and from their labour camps in proper buses etc, they used to be transported in metal cattle trucks without windows (just slits for air) and other disgusting forms of transport. These poor men had worked all day in the hot sun only to spend an agonising ride home in something previously used to ferry animals to the slaughter house.
    Fortunatly a rule was brought in to change this about 10 plus years ago.

    My late partner was an ex minister of Dubai Labour and I could never really get him to understand how sad the sistuation was for certain expats.
    The other thing I really hate about UAE because it still exists today is the difference in salary paid to nationalities because of their passport. A friend doing the exact same job in a company in the same office was paid 10,000 dhs a month more than her Indian co worker and this I find disgusting.

  5. Assalaamu alaikum,

    I can only speak about KSA, since I've never been to UAE or seen the situation there.

    I agree that many of the laborers are not treated well. However, there are many that are treated well and get paid more than locals. There is a Saudi who works in my husband's building. He takes the trash and cleans. He gets paid like 1600 riyals only, which isn't nearly enough to take care of a family, and he isn't getting housing like the expat workers do. It upsets me seeing locals getting paid so little while many expats are getting paid much more, and Saudis are refused the same jobs. For example, we have to hire a gardener (compound rules), and he gets paid a base salary (which isn't a lot) by his contractor company, and everyone whose yards he takes care of pay him monthly. These gardeners are probably making at least double what that Saudi guy makes.

    There are so many unemployed Saudis because foreigners are either cheaper or they don't give the employer any problems. When the rules for the Saudization came out, many companies 'hired' all their sons or relatives so they could prove on paper that a certain percentage of Saudis were employed there, but the fact is, they never even worked there....

    Another problem is...some Saudis refuse to take certain jobs and some Saudis refuse to hire other Saudis for certain jobs. A while back there was an article about a Saudi man who owned a barber shop in Riyadh. He said he had to close after a few years because no Saudis would patronize his barber shop. All his customers were foreigners. It's sad...

  6. as-salaam aleikum

    oh, Aalia, when I was talking about how are maid had to say "yes madam, yes" with her former employer, I didn't mean its bad they have call their employers madam. its the way she was supposed to say it--along with running to her as if it is sooooo urgent.

    sis Umm Riyam.. that is CRAZY that that happens in Saudi... with its own citizens!! absolutely crazy!!

  7. as-salaam aleikum,

    yes, sis MaryAnn, it is always Western expats I hear of who do charital work for them...

    well.. ok, when Ramadan comes around things are different...but thats only 30 days out of a whole year, and the intentions are different...from the Western expats.