Even some of them were trapped there and forced them to adopt a life of modern slavery.
In this regard, the HRW on Wednesday issued a statement on its website depicting the ongoing bleak scenario in the gulf country. It made the report based on interviews with 59 female domestic workers in Oman in May, 2015.
“I would start working at 4:30am and finish at 1am. For the entire day they would not let me sit. I used to be exhausted. There were 20 rooms and over 2 floors. He would not give me food. When I said I want to leave, he said, “I bought you for 1,560 rials (US$4,052) from Dubai. Give it back to me and then you can go,” said Asma K., a Bangladeshi domestic worker in Oman.
The lack of redress in the country has been blamed for such abuses. In some cases, Oman’s legal framework facilitates these sorry conditions.
There are at least 130,000 female migrant domestic workers, and possibly many more, are employed in the country. They were recruited from Asia and Africa—including the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Ethiopia— with the promise of decent salaries and good working conditions.
But the reality is bleak. After they arrive, many find themselves trapped with abusive employers and forced to work in exploitative conditions, their plight hidden behind closed doors, the reports also said.
In some cases, workers described abuses that amounted to forced labor or trafficking, including across Oman’s porous border with the United Arab Emirates (UAE). While this report does not purport to quantify the precise scale of these abuses, it is clear that abuses are widespread and that they are generally carried out with impunity.
Most of the workers we interviewed said their employers confiscated their passports, a practice that appears to be commonplace even though Oman’s government prohibits it. Many said their employers did not pay them their full salaries, forced them to work excessively long hours without breaks or days off, or denied them adequate food and living conditions. Some said their employers physically abused them; a few described sexual abuse.
Instead of protecting domestic workers from these abuses, Oman’s laws and policies make them more vulnerable. In fact, Oman’s legal framework is often more effective in allowing employers to retaliate against workers who flee abusive situations than in securing domestic workers’ rights or ensuring their physical safety. The country’s immigration system prohibits migrant workers from leaving their employers or working for new employers without their initial employers’ consent and punishes them if they do. Oman’s labor law excludes domestic workers from its protections, and those who flee abuse have little avenue for redress.
The situation is so dire for many domestic workers that some countries, such as Indonesia, have banned their nationals from migrating to Oman for domestic work. Several countries, like the Philippines and India, have set basic protections for their domestic workers in Oman that Omani law does not provide, such as minimum salaries. But they can do little to enforce these protections once their nationals are in the country.
Abuse against domestic workers
Oman criminalises slavery and trafficking, but enforcement is weak. Forced labour is punished under the country’s labour law, but domestic workers are excluded from that law’s protections. Omani authorities have prosecuted a few individuals for forced labor, but it is unclear whether any of those cases involved domestic workers.
Several workers described conditions that amount to forced labor under international law. Many described employers beating them, withholding their salaries, threatening to kill them, falsely accusing them of crimes when they sought to leave, or retaliating against them by beating them for trying to escape abuse. Several workers said that their employers behaved as though they owned them—claiming that the recruitment fees they paid to secure workers’ services were in fact a price paid to acquire them as property. Oman’s legal framework facilitates abuse of domestic workers to such a degree that it could leave some trapped in situations that amount to slavery under international law.
Roughly one-quarter of the domestic workers Human Rights Watch interviewed said that their employers physically or sexually abused them, including a Bangladeshi domestic worker who said that her employer cut her hair and burned her feet, and another who said that her employer’s son raped her. Most said their employers verbally abused them by shouting at them, threatening to kill them, or calling them insulting names like “bitch.” Marisa L., a Filipina domestic worker, recounted: “Madam would say all the time that I do not have a brain. That I am dirty.”
Many domestic workers said that their employers delayed paying their salaries or paid less than was owed. Some did not pay their wages at all. One worker said she did not receive wages for a year. Almost all domestic workers complained of working long periods of up to 15 hours per day and, in extreme cases, up to 21 hours per day with no rest and no day off, even if they were sick or injured. For example, Babli H., a 28-year-old Bangladeshi domestic worker, said her employer made her work 21 hours a day with no rest and no day off. She said that her employer also physically and verbally abused her, and withheld two months of her salary. She said when she asked to leave, her employer said, “If the agent does not give me back my money, I would not let you go.”
In some cases, women worked for large, extended families or in multiple houses. Parveen A., a Bangladeshi domestic worker, said she worked for a family of 15 in 4 houses in their compound in Sohar, a port city in northern Oman. She said she worked for 16 months from 4am until midnight with no day off. She said her employer only paid her 50 Omani rials a month ($130), 20 rials less than she was owed, and withheld 4 months’ salary entirely.
Domestic workers described common employer practices that kept them isolated from sources of support, namely passport confiscation, tight restrictions on communication, and confinement in the household. While Oman prohibits employers from confiscating workers’ passports, it is not clear whether the law actually allows for criminal sanctions or whether any have ever been imposed.
Under contractual terms mandated by Oman’s government, employers are required to provide domestic workers with adequate room and board; these provisions are particularly important given that many domestic workers are not free to leave their employers’ homes, are not paid in full and on time, and, in many cases, do not earn enough to provide their own food and lodging. Mamata B., a Bangladeshi domestic worker, said her employer punished her after she fled to the police for help but they returned her. “My madam beat me up and locked me in the room for eight days with only dates to eat and water to drink,” she said.
Some domestic workers described inappropriate and inadequate sleeping conditions in their employers’ homes, including in kitchens, living rooms, or with small children. Anisa M., a Tanzanian domestic worker, said, “I sleep in the kitchen. I do not have a room.”