Saudi Arabia cuts wages for African domestic workers

Someone handing out dollar notes in an office. Photo/Shutterstock

By The East African

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) has moved to revise downwards the maximum wages payable to domestic workers of Kenyan origin by up to 17.2 percent or about $500 per month, alongside those of other countries that include Uganda, Ethiopia, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

In a statement from the country’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development on Tuesday, Kenyan workers took the highest hit in the group of six, with the ceiling for the annual payable wage reducing from SR10,870 ($2900) to SR9,000 ($2400).

On the list, only the African countries got a double-digit percentage reduction, with Ethiopia taking a 14.5 percent cut as Uganda was hit with a 12.6 percent reduction from SR6,900 ($1,839) to SR5,900 ($1,573) and from SR9,500 ($2,533) to SR8,300 ($2,213) respectively.

Filipino workers got the least cut, at 7.5 percent, as those from Sri Lanka and Bangladesh had their wages reduced by eight percent and 9.6 percent respectively.

“This step comes within the framework of the Ministry’s efforts to review recruitment costs and ensure fair prices,” reads a translated version of the statement that was originally posted Tuesday on the Ministry’s official website in Arabic.

The development, which comes at a time the President William Ruto-led administration has launched an aggressive campaign to court international employers, in efforts aimed at easing ballooning unemployment at the local scene, is set to strike a blow to diaspora cash inflows as remittances from Saudi Arabia accounted for nearly two-thirds of transmittal growth during the eight-month period to August last year.

Last October, President Ruto announced that he had secured up to 350,000 job opportunities for Kenyans in the Middle East’s largest economy, saying at the time that local workers are preferred for their reputation as the most hardworking among all migrant workers.

“During my trip to Saudi Arabia last week, they needed 350,000 workers and they say Kenyan workers are better than the others because they’re hardworking,” Dr Ruto said at the time.

Mid last month, the President announced that following the conclusion of critical agreements with the Saudi government, the latter had asked for the first 2,500 skilled workers, noting that it was a departure from the tradition where only domestic workers travelled to Saudi for employment.

House-helps have for years made the largest category of labour exports from Kenya to Saudi Arabia, with data from the Ministry of Labour indicating that by 2022, nearly 80,000 Kenyan domestic workers had secured jobs in the Middle Eastern country.

The practice has however come under sharp scrutiny in recent years amid rising cases of workers airing complaints, of a range of inhuman treatment spanning sexual harassment, torture and other forms of abuse that have in the worst case scenarios resulted in death.