By Azmat Haroon
Dozens of local manpower agencies say that their businesses are on the verge of closure because of a shortage of visas for Filipina domestic workers and increasingly strict rules on recruiting those from Indonesia. The agencies complain that recruitment charges for domestic workers have gone up by 40 percent and there are more restrictions on visas for Filipina housemaids, who continue to be in high demand.
Recruitment charges for Indonesian maids have soared to QR13,500, for Sri Lankans QR12,000; Kenyans QR8,000; Ethiopians QR7,000 and getting a maid from Bangladesh currently costs QR7,500.
With business fluctuating, there is tough competition among manpower agencies, most of which vie to get visas for Filipina and Indonesian household workers.
“Our business has practically come to a halt now that we can’t get workers from the Philippines,” the owner of a local manpower agency said, requesting anonymity.
He said he had been running a manpower agency for nearly 20 years and his business had suffered record losses over the past year. At least six manpower agencies shut down recently because they had no work.
“In case of a dispute between the sponsor and the worker, embassies put pressure on local agencies. The rules are vague when it comes to holding the family sponsoring the maid responsible for a dispute or abuse,” said one agent, who did not want to be identified.
Agencies said there was no ban on Filipina domestic workers but a handful of ‘Grade A’ manpower agencies have a monopoly over them.
“Big companies bring workers in large numbers and the rules don’t require them to consult private companies.”
Mohammed Essa, from a recruitment agency, said charges had gone up, especially for Indonesian and Filipina maids.
“The demand for housemaids is very high right now but there are not enough visas.”
The issue over Filipinas started with the Philippine government imposing a minimum wage of $400 for housemaids around the world as part of the Household Service Workers (HSW) Policy Reform Package, which was opposed by the majority of Qatari families.
Anees Ahmed, from another agency, said the market was going through “a major crisis”. For the Indonesian domestic workers alone, the recruitment charges have increased by 15 percent. The charges for Sri Lankans have also increased because manpower agencies in that country are also charging more.
Sources familiar with the issue said restrictions are imposed because of disputes between housemaids and their sponsors. One expert said there was also a lack of interest from Filipinas to come and work in Qatar now.
“At the heart of the issue lies the fact that there have been many cases of abuse and disputes between Filipina household workers and local families. When these cases come to the forefront and rumours are circulated about them, the authorities think that people from so and so countries are causing ‘trouble’ and just impose restrictions,” he said, seeking anonymity.
The expert was also very critical of the Philippines Overseas Labour Office (Polo) which, he said, often turned a blind eye to those seeking help.
“It’s not just the domestic workers, getting visas for Filipino workers has generally become very difficult here.”
Attempts to get comments from the concerned diplomatic missions here by this newspaper failed.
The Indonesian embassy, on the other hand, has a limited quota under which only 10 visas are issued every month to each manpower agency. The process of recruiting an Indonesian maid is also reportedly longer and more complicated compared to others. The owner of a local manpower agency said that in addition to the fixed quota, getting approval from the Indonesian embassy alone could take 15 days, while the whole process at times goes over two months.
According to official estimates, there are nearly 38,000 Indonesians in Qatar, of whom some 20,000 are domestic workers. They get an average QR750 to QR900 monthly salary.
Two working parents, who wanted to get a maid from Indonesia, told this newspaper that they contacted nearly five agencies, all of which had them waiting for three months. Many families here prefer Indonesians because they are Muslims and easily learn Arabic.
The Ministry of Interior announced in April that two European countries, Bosnia and Macedonia, have agreed to send housemaids to Qatar. But local agencies say that there has been little progress on that front.
“Whenever we visit the Immigration Department we are told that the paperwork on the agreement to get housemaids from European countries has not been completed — the rule is yet to be implemented,” the agent said.
The move was also not welcomed by local families, especially housewives, who were sceptical about ‘beautiful young women’ living in their homes as they could potentially ‘charm away’ their husbands.
The alternative countries left for agencies then are Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India, Kenya and Ethiopia. Although getting household workers from Bangladesh and Ethiopia is cheap, many families do not prefer them.
A parent seeking domestic help said that the problem with Indian and Bangladeshi housemaids was that they were very old. “If you have children, you want someone who is young, who can also learn your customs and adjust with your family easily.”
He said that the reputation of housemaids in the country depended on word of mouth. Because of cases of runaway housemaids, many families ask for a CV before they recruit a housemaid.
“We need to see the CVs of the maids to make sure we can trust them.”
While the demand for domestic workers continues to soar in Qatar, some experts consider the presence of a large number of housemaids here as a major ‘social and cultural threat’ for families. This, they argue, is because the natural bond between mothers and children is affected because of maids.