(MENAFN - Arab News) The number of runaway housemaids living and working in Saudi Arabia is on the rise, said Jeddah police spokesman Brig. Misfer Al-Juaid.
"We receive reports on missing housemaids on daily basis, but we are not authorized to go search for them unless they have committed a crime or stole from their sponsors," said Al-Juaid. "Whenever it happens, we join forces with the Passport Department to search for the housemaid together and arrest her," he added.
There are no accurate numbers of runaway housemaids at the police office, said Al-Juaid.
Recruiting housemaids is expensive for families, especially when they stand the risk of employing a maid that might leave them. "A recruitment office may charge a fee ranging between SR 10,000 and SR 15,000 to recruit a maid, which includes the ticket fare," said Abdullah Al Mozairaai, a 48-year-old school manager.
"We pay housemaids up to SR 1,000 per month and we don't charge them for housing or food. They don't come with a guarantee. When a maid runs away, you don't get your money back and you have to do this all over again," he added.
Withholding a part of their salary is one way to keep housemaids from running away, said 52-year-old businessman Asaad Al-Jehani. "After a long series of fleeing maids, I started withholding 10 percent of their salary, just to make sure they would not run away," he said. "I would prefer to be informed by the housemaid of her intentions of leaving, rather than have her leave without prior notice," he added.
Maids look for new employers in newspaper advertisements. "Every Friday I find a classifieds newspaper hanging on the door of the house of my sponsors. There I find all sorts of families asking for maids and this is where many maids offer their services," said Zaraa, an Indonesian housemaid. "Many of my friends found good jobs through these ads and they leave their current employees after securing their next job," she added.
A newly imported maid earns a low salary, while the going rate for a full-time maid in the Kingdom is around SR 1,800, said Abu Omar, a recruitment office manager in Riyadh.
"Employers usually justify the lower salary due to the high cost of hiring and sustaining these housemaids, but it's not a justification to the maids," he said. "There is no good reason for them of why they should work for less when they can get much more somewhere else, this is why they run away and look for new employers," he added.
Arab News met with a group of maids from the Philippines, Indonesia, Eritrea and India and asked them about this.
Raheela Hassan, a 29-year-old Indian housemaid said that many Saudi female employers want to be treated like princesses and don't want to lift a finger. "They always ask me to make her coffee, tea, bring her water and treat her like royalty," she said. "I hate that I have to smile everyday for this treatment but I have to do it because it's part of the job," she added.
"I'm not the only maid in the house," said Rahwa, a 24-year-old Eritrean housemaid. "We are a group of maids that work together in different jobs. I am responsible for cleaning and washing clothes and I hate it because I feel like I'm buried under this pile of clothes," she said. "I kept thinking of running away and asked my employer to change my job. She keeps telling me that I'm good at what I do and this is what keeps me going," she added.
As for 32-year-old Indonesian maid Nour, she hates being yelled at every time she does something wrong. "I ran away once from one of my employers because I cannot stand being yelled at. I just hate it whenever someone raises her voice at me," she said.
"A pleasant attitude is what makes people want to work for you and they don't understand that. They have to put in mind that we come from villages and we don't know anything about the Saudi culture and this is why we do things wrong," she added.
Evelyn is a 40-year-old housemaid who has been working with her employers for over 20 years. She said that only the kids keep her going. "The children love me and I love them back. I took care of three children at my employers and I love seeing them grow up," she said.
"Their mother used to scream at me whenever she hears one of them crying or hungry or dirty and I honestly believe that it's her job to watch over them, not me," she added.