This has been attributed to a host of factors, the most important being restrictions imposed on recruitment of housemaids by some Asian countries.
At the same time, Qatari households rue that no one listens to their side of the story. In a column published in this newspaper late last August, Ahmed Al Muhannady outlined the challenges Qatari sponsors of maids face.
The cost of hiring a maid runs into thousands of riyals and she has the option of saying no after working in a family for three months.
If a family asks her to continue, she can run away. In that case the sponsor has to pay to repatriate her.
“Or, she might even fake a suicide attempt, so the sponsor must take her to hospital,” he said. “Then, she leaves for her home country at our expense.”
The irony is that when a sponsor files a lawsuit against a runaway maid or servant for attempted suicide, the defendant is released pending trial and stays at the sponsor’s residence.
“How does the sponsor ensure that the maid does not escape again or attempt suicide in revenge?”
The maid is hospitalised and the state pays QR1,500 per day. “If you don’t like to work and the sponsor refuses to send you home, just scratch your wrist or consume an antiseptic solution,” said Muhannady, hinting that such actions by maids were not uncommon.
But agency and diplomatic sources say excessive work might be leading some maids to resort to such tricks.
“This has prompted the embassies of some manpower exporting countries to restrict the numbers of maids coming in from their countries,” a recruitment business source said.
The result is that there is a shortage while demand continues to be high. At least two embassies have fixed limited quotas for agencies.
Last May, when the Indonesian embassy introduced a fixed quota system for manpower agencies, many of them suffered huge financial losses.
“We were one of them. At the time we had got 200 visas for Indonesian maids by spending tens of thousands of riyals,” said an official from a manpower agency not wanting his name in print.
Others, however, said they had begun getting maids from Bangladesh. “When one source of import dries the other opens up. We get about 50 Bangladeshi maids on average a month,” he said.
There is demand for these maids as the recruitment charges are relatively lower, at QR8,200, and so are the wages — QR800 a month.