Saudis create chaos for overseas workers
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Saudis create chaos for overseas workers

Decision to ban Indons, Filipinos seen as pique after criticism of beheading of Indonesian maid, writes Asia Sentinel correspondent

The decision last week by the Saudi Arabian government to stop hiring maids from the Philippines and Indonesia as of Aug.1 has created chaos in the overseas labor markets of the two countries, with the fate uncertain for tens of thousands signed up by labor contractors waiting to leave for the gulf kingdom.

The Philippines has some 25,000-35,000 prospective workers in the pipeline to go to Saudi Arabia and 360,000 workers there now, a government spokesman said Friday. Some 180,000 are domestic helpers.  Saudi Arabia is the top destination of Filipino overseas foreign workers in total and fourth for domestic helpers. Those numbers are dwarfed by Indonesia, which has 927,000 migrant workers in Saudi Arabia, mostly working as housemaids, according to the Indonesian government news service Antara.

It is questionable how long the ban will last. Most observers believe it will be lifted relatively soon. With nearly a third of its population made up of foreign workers, Saudi Arabia has a seemingly insatiable thirst for foreign workers and both Indonesia and the Philippines have a strong need to keep sending people overseas.  According to the World Bank, overseas workers provide 10 percent of Philippine gross domestic product and a major share of private consumption. The country has a whopping 11.2 million of its 40-million work force unemployed.

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Indonesian workers hold posters during a protest against the alleged abuse of Sumiati, an Indonesian worker in Saudi Arabia, outside the Parliament, Jakarta, Indonesia on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010. Pic:AP.

The English language news site Arab News quoted Hattah BinSaleh Al Anzi, a spokesman for the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Labor, as saying the ministry had made the decision in retaliation for moves by the two countries to impose stricter conditions on prospective Saudi employers.  However, many observers believe the decision to halt the import of foreign workers actually stems from the embarrassment the Saudis encountered after they beheaded an Indonesian maid with a sword after she had murdered her employer.  The Indonesian government recalled its ambassador for consultations, saying the Saudis hadn’t informed the Indonesian government of its decision to execute the woman, a video of which was carried on a Saudi website. Another22 Indonesian workers face beheading by sword, according to Indonesia’s justice and human rights minister.

Both the Philippines and Indonesia have sought to impose new conditions on Saudi employers.  The Philippine government has been in negotiations to require foreign employers to pay domestic workers a minimum monthly wage of US$400 plus give additional details of the living conditions in which domestic workers will reside. The Saudi government has also vetoed a Philippine proposal to require medical insurance for maids.

A Saudi government delegation arrived in Manila in April to negotiate the labor dispute, but the talks have broken down.  A request to reconvene the talks has not been answered.

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