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Still, the Saudi government has attempted to address the situation. In January 2011 it tightened regulations regarding labor workers by increasing the requirements on possible employers, including the submittal of references proving an employers’ “good conduct.”
Unfortunately, this simple act of compliance has proven too much of a burden for most Saudi employers as job orders have dropped from an average of 1,000 each day to just five a day in the past five months.
For its part, the Indonesian government has responded to the situation by issuing a moratorium on the Saudi hiring of Indonesian women as well as a call for clemency for 23 of its nationals who currently face the Saudi death penalty.
The Philippine government has also issued a moratorium on the hiring of Filipino maids. That moratorium, however, was issued after the Philippine government had refused a Saudi proposal to cut the minimum wage for maids from $400 a month down to $200.
Ironically, both moratoriums have come at a time when the Saudi government is trying to wean itself off its heavy dependence on migrant-workers by pledging over $90 billion in programs aimed at boosting services and jobs for its own citizens.
Currently, over two-thirds of jobs in Saudi Arabia are held by foreigners, including almost 90 percent in the private sector. Moreover, unemployment in the Saudi kingdom stands at 10.5 percent with youth unemployment approaching nearly 30 percent. To that end, Saudi Arabia has imposed new quotas on companies in the kingdom to employ local staff, with cuts in permits for foreign workers if they fail to comply.
Still, it remains more than likely that the Indonesian and the Philippine governments will soon resolve their issues with the Saudi government. After all, migrant workers generate huge sums of cash, most of which is sent back home to their impoverished families. In 2010 Saudi Arabia was the source of $34 billion in such remittances. Moreover, it is estimated that the current Indonesian moratorium will cost it $1.6 billion.
In fact, so reluctant has Indonesia been in the past to lose that extra income that it rescinded a proposal in 2010 to raise the minimum age and salaries of maids after a coalition of employment agencies in the Gulf threatened to look elsewhere in Asia for maids and drivers.
Even Sri Lanka, which has 300,000 Sri Lankans guest workers in Saudi Arabia, more than twice as many as in any other country, is reluctant to impose any moratorium and risk the influx of money.
That rigid Sri Lankan stance, unfortunately, spells bad news for Rizana Nafeek, a Sri Lankan maid scheduled to be beheaded for allegedly murdering a four-month-old baby despite her plea that she had been trying to save the child from choking. Nafeek — who was seventeen at the time of the incident–had no legal representation before or during her trial.
Now, Nafeek will soon be marched into a packed town square where — blindfolded and shackled — she will be forced to kneel facing Mecca before her life will be brutally and abruptly ended with one sweep of a sharp-edged sword. Her frightfully cruel death chalked up as nothing more than a standard condition of Saudi Arabian employment.
Frank Crimi is a writer living in San Diego, California. You can read more of Frank’s work at his blog, www.politicallyunbalanced.com.
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