Domestic Workers in South Kurdistan

Biryar Bahhaalddin

By Biryar Bahhaalddin:

There are many different views about the domestic workers in Kurdistan. Are they workers or slaves? Is it process of hiring or of purchasing like commodities? Is it an ordinary matter or like going back to the slavery era of the Roman Empire? Some people claim that bringing domestic workers into Kurdistan is human trafficking because most of these workers did not know where they would end up working, and they do not have the common rights of Kurdish workers. Despite this, the companies involved and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) argue that it is not slavery, and not even close to slavery, because the companies and the KRG protect these workers, and they have all signed contracts, showing their satisfaction with their situation.

According to the laws of Iraq’s republic applying to the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, which contains 157 articles passed the Iraqi’s Council of Representatives and approved by Iraq’s president, Iraqi workers have many rights which do not apply to domestic workers. Iraq’s law states that a worker’s salary must be increased after one year of working, but this is not included in the domestic worker’s contract. After acquiring a copy of the Golden Fens Company contract, which is ratified by the KRG, I realized that it allocates a minimum $300 as the monthly payment, without any provision for increasing the salary.

Moreover,  Iraqi law states that the working day must not exceed 8 hours but, in the contracts signed by domestic workers, there is no limit to their hours, and this is a violation of their basic rights. I interviewed some of the home maids in Kurdistan, and they said that some days they work more than 12 hours: this shows that these workers are not fully emancipated like the Iraqi workers. One domestic worker called Muhamad said, “I have worked 12 hour per day. If I work 12 hour per day so when can I have rest? When can I eat and go out to parks?” Muhamad said that, when they left their own countries, the recruitment companies in Dubai told them that they would work 7 hours per day, and that they said that they would work in Dubai. But Muhamad was shocked by his actual working hours which are more than 12 per day; and Dubai was just the place for distributing them to other countries.

Sasamu Dasi, another domestic worker, gives an example. “I was told that we will go to Turkistan (Turkey ) not Kurdistan”, she said. So she didn’t even know where she would be working. These workers are not traveling to Kurdistan easily, and they spend at least $6000 to travel from their own countries (many come from Ethiopia, Bangladesh and the Philippines). They need money to buy tickets for the planes. In addition, most of these workers come from countries restricting or prohibiting travel to Iraq, and so they have to give additional money to the companies that have the power to make their journeys possible. Some of these workers have to sell their houses or cars, and some borrow money which must be paid back at interest.

For all these reasons, they cannot leave here once they arrive, and they put up with bad treatment such as verbal, physical, and sexual abuse, in order to be able to send money back to their families – and to the companies that they have borrowed money from.

The companies and the KRG are saying that domestic workers in Kurdistan have their rights and are protected by the government. Jaza Hama Rashed, a manager for one of the companies bringing in domestic workers, said that none of these workers are forced to work and they sign contracts showing their satisfaction. But I think it is really compulsion because these workers have usually been old that they would work in Dubai, and they have spent a lot of money traveling from their country. So they have no other choice. If they do not comply, they will go back home with no money, and with a large amount of debt. Furthermore, while visiting many companies in Sulaymaniah city I found that the contracts are written in Arabic or Kurdish. The contracts are not written in English or in the native languages of the domestic workers, and this suggests that they do not know what they are signing for.

Dr. Arif Hito, the Minister of Labor, appeared on the ‘Lagal Ranj’ program on the Rudaw TV channel, and said that the KRG has set up three committees to investigate these workers’ conditions. However, this means there is just one committee for each city in Kurdistan – Sulaymaniah , Erbil, and Douhok – and just three committees for 19,488 domestic workers. How can these three committees protect such a large number of domestic workers? I visited Work Line Company which hires domestic workers and asked the manager about these committees. I was shocked to be told that, “they have never visited us”.

Dr. Hito added that Kurdistan has an emergency hotline number (5500) which these workers can call if they are abused or treated badly. But I have spoken with many domestic workers, linked to different companies, and none of them knew about this hotline number. Wanting to be sure about the service, I called the number, but it was invalid.

In short, the KRG should implement new, special legislation to protect the domestic workers in Kurdistan; and it should be more serious about protecting their rights because they are human like us. Moreover, we should remember that, in the past, Kurds went to work outside Kurdistan when jobs were not available here. As Edmund Burke, the political theorist and philosopher said, “Slavery is a weed that grows on every soil.” So we have to be careful.

Biryar Bahhaalddin is a Library Assistant at The American University of Iraq, Sulaimani

7 Responses to Domestic Workers in South Kurdistan
  1. souphia
    July 16, 2015 | 10:52

    Good job Biryar,
    You have focused on an important issue in your country. In my opinion the problem of abusing the workers and lack of committees to protect their rights is not only domestic workers’ problem, but actually whole Iraqi’s individuals. There is a lack of rule implementation in that country.

  2. Biryar
    July 17, 2015 | 18:11

    Thank you souphia for your nice comment. You are totally right.I agree with you that all iraqi individuals are suffering from the very very bad treatment of human. I am working on a research with 2 of my friends about the quality and quantity of women MP’s in KRG ,the iraqi panel code and iraqi personal status law which has a lot of articles that violates the very basic rights of women and human in general. I can’t wait to send you a copy when i publish it . We hope to change sth as the new educated generation even if it is hard but it worths trying

  3. Parvin
    July 18, 2015 | 08:11

    Minimum wage, age and gender discrimination must be addressed. Employers need to provide sexual harassment training educational courses. Heath epidemics must be monitored more closely.
    Expect real changes when ongoing war ends. Hospitals in South are awash with wounded Peshmargas. If war does not come to an immediate end, I personally do not see any bright future.

  4. mufid
    July 20, 2015 | 13:06

    well done for such a brilliant piece of writing

    • Biryar
      July 21, 2015 | 05:44

      Thank you very much Kak Mufid, I am really happy that you liked the article it is a pleasure to me.

  5. Biryar
    July 20, 2015 | 15:00

    Thank you Parvin for your comment. I know that the war now with ISIS has damaged everything in the country. Because the priority now is fighting ISIS and this damaged the humanitarian issues in Kurdistan lets hope that this war will end soon

  6. Aram
    July 28, 2015 | 21:18

    Whilst the vast majority of Nations of the world suuport Kurdish struggle for freedom and democracy in all parts of Kurdistan, they also expect Kurdish leadership to respect democracy. Below is the translated observations of US President Barrack Obama in regards to free and fair elections in Iraqi Kurdistan. I hope he sincerely means it. Unlike last time, he pays connsideration to principals of ethnics.

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