Out of all the MENA countries, the GCC migrant domestic workers, mainly in the UAE and Qatar where together with their outdoor counterpart such as drivers and / or other domestic helpers form almost the majority of all expatriate workers. Elsewhere in the GCC, the situation though practically similar, would be less acute in terms of numbers. Since the advent of oil & gas and all related boom years, this situation has decanted down from the countries leaders, generalising to most settled populations as some sort of consensual culture. 

Policies of Saudisation, Emiritisation and Qatarisation, to name but a few, are on-going operations that are meant to mitigate the above and are relatively successful in their discrete implementation. If that is not enough, legislation and other administration’s rules and regulations covering all aspects of life that were supplemented by the recent introduction of various taxation and annulation of certain state subsidies are in turn affecting the flow of immigration. This has always been subjected to what is called the “Kafala” or a sponsorship of an employer system.

GCC countries have however made notable progress in recent years but despite that, abuse has still been noted here and there, through sad and very hyped up events. Meanwhile, the GCC’s dependence generally, on expatriate workforce is reckoned by most to continue in the near future because mainly of the enduring rentier economy’s related life style coupled with the not diminishing shortage of professionally and technically qualified local workers.

An (International Labour Organization) ILO’s Domestic Work  White Paper Press release | 08 March 2018 outlines policy recommendations to reform the migrant domestic work sector and establish a professionalized and high-quality care economy in the region.

© Leila Aloui / ILO BEIRUT (ILO News) – A new ILO report covering the Arab States region demonstrates the importance of reform in the domestic work sector for both workers and employers.


Reforming the migrant domestic work sector in the Arab region vital to welfare of both workers and employers – ILO report


The ILO white paper Domestic workers and employers in the Arab States: Promising practices and innovative models for a productive working relationship  outlines several policy recommendations for consideration by the governments in the region. The recommendations touch on both reforming the migrant domestic work sector, and developing the care economy , of which migrant labour and domestic work form an essential part.

The domestic work  sector makes a vital economic and social contribution to the Arab States region, with domestic workers supporting the care of children during critical stages of development, supporting the elderly to live with dignity, and relieving nationals of their domestic and care responsibilities, enabling greater female labour force participation. Migrant workers form the majority of workers in this sector in the Arab States – with the region hosting 3.16 million migrant domestic workers .

Important progress has been made over the last few years by a number of countries in the region towards legislative change to better regulate the sector. Weak enforcement, however, means that the sector is susceptible to a high turnover of workers and poor efficiency in job matching and job placement, and is characterized by informality and large numbers of workers in an irregular situation. Poor regulation of the international recruitment industry (including illegal charging of fees and related costs to workers), coupled with restrictions under the kafala sponsorship system, leave workers and employers unsatisfied with the current sector model.

“Employers’ and domestic workers’ needs are not necessarily in conflict,” said Ruba Jaradat, ILO Regional Director for Arab States. “Rather both parties call for transparency in the recruitment process, amendments and clarifications on the conditions of sponsorship, better quality skills development and job matching, and streamlined systems of dispute resolution.”

“Employers and workers can become allies in calling for reform to the sector,” Jaradat said.

As demographics and household structures transform in the region, the White Paper recommends that governments of the Arab States work towards establishing a professionalized and quality care economy , of which domestic work and the labour of migrant workers forms an essential part. A vibrant, strong and resilient care economy should take into account the needs and preferences of employers, ensure high quality care and services, and guarantee decent working conditions (for both nationals and migrant workers).

The paper presents a number of innovative practices from around the world.

“To find a way to balance employers’ right to privacy, with the need to assess working conditions, new models of labour inspection can be introduced,” said Sophia Kagan, Chief Technical Advisor of the ILO’s FAIRWAY project , citing one example.

“Information and awareness raising sessions and campaigns can be implemented for both workers and employers. Campaigns targeting employers must incorporate behaviour change messages to help shift practices that have been cemented over generations,” Kagan continued.

Finally, the report points to the importance of social dialogue which can be achieved through the creation and support of organizations that represent the interests of both parties.

The ILO’s work includes supporting governments in the region to develop and implement new thinking that can ensure a productive domestic work sector to the benefit of all – workers, employers and society.