Give her a day off

Muna Al-Fuzai

Every time I hear negative comments or racist opinions about labor rights, I feel sorry and ashamed of those who despise the poor, who are forced to work abroad due to poverty. Recently I heard the views of some Filipinos friends and their feelings with regards to comments by a Kuwaiti woman who posted a video on Instagram on July 10 in which she rejected the new rules that were introduced in May to give Filipino domestic helpers a day off every week and prevent employers from keeping their passports.

On May 11, Kuwait and Manila signed an agreement regulating domestic labor following a diplomatic crisis that led to a ban on Filipino workers heading to work in the country. “Don’t we have the right to have a day off for ourselves once a week?” A good observation and fair call by my Filipino friend. Another said: “If the maid receives good treatment from the sponsor, she wouldn’t think of escaping even if she has her passport.”

The story began when the Kuwaiti girl expressed her personal opinion on social media about the subject of granting Filipino maids weekly leave and the right to retain their passports. I believe the domestic worker is a hardworking human who needs to communicate with friends on her day off and have a social life. She is an employee and not a slave or a prisoner. But it seems not everyone agrees on this.

The lady’s comments in the deleted clip sparked outrage on social media, with calls to make an apology and likening her comments to those of “a slave owner”. The blogger tried to defend her opinion and told AFP by phone that the outcry was “unjustified” and did not require an apology. “All I said was that the employer is entitled to keep the servant’s passport, and that many Kuwaitis and Gulf nationals agree with me,” she said. I don’t know what is the exact interpretation of the term “many”, because I see this as a personal opinion. I am very much a Kuwaiti and this is an insult and racist.

When someone denies the basic social right of a human, then they do not recognize that this person – no matter what job they occupy – is not less than them and has the same needs. Do the “many” employers who refuse to give the worker a day off and their passport enjoy any day off themselves, or not? I believe domestic workers are no different than other employees with fixed working hours. Having a worker in your house doesn’t mean you are entitled to own her flesh and blood and treat her like a machine, because she is human as I am and you are and not less. The working hours must not be more than eight per day, plus a day off too weekly. If this does not please the sponsor, then they should depend on themselves and clean their own houses.

I hope people think twice before uttering racist and reprehensible opinions that represent them only and not the entire society, especially those who defend the rights of poor workers. We have to improve their working and living conditions because being far from their families is already a suffering, so let’s not deprive them of their human rights too.

By Muna Al-Fuzai
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