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Saudi Arabia cuts hiring fees for Kenya domestic workers by Sh80,000

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Domestic workers at a meeting in Nairobi on October 8, 2023. PHOTO | LUCY WANJIRU | NMG

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) has moved to cut the maximum hiring costs for domestic workers of Kenyan origin by up to 17.2 percent, 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, the upper limit for recruiting Kenyan workers was slashed the most in the group of six, reducing by Sh80,000 from SR10,870 (Sh465,215) to SR9,000 (Sh385,182).

In the list, only the African countries got a double-digit percentage reduction, with Ethiopia taking a 14.5 percent cut as costs for hiring Ugandan workers were reduced 12.6 percent from SR6,900 (Sh295,306) to SR5,900 (Sh252,508) and from SR9,500 (Sh406,581) to SR8,300 (Sh355,223) respectively.

Read: Tweet on calibre of Kenyan migrant workers in the Gulf puts Foreign Affairs PS on the spot

Costs for hiring Philippine workers got reduced at the least rate of 7.5 percent as Sri Lanka’s and those of Bangladesh were cut by eight percent and 9.6 percent respectively.

“The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development has announced the reduction of the upper ceiling for the costs of recruiting domestic labour services in a number of countries…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 decision comes within the framework of the Ministry’s endeavor to develop all services, improve the labour market environment and enhance its attractiveness, and the keenness to review the costs of services provided and systems according to economic variables.”

The revision spells doom for recruitment agencies which have reportedly been exploiting Saudi-based employers by seeking exorbitant payments to supply workers, a practice that worked to the disadvantage of the recruits as employers would downsize their wages to recover the expenses.

Read: Saudi Arabia posts fastest growth in Kenya diaspora inflows

The development 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 on the local scene.

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 need 350,000 workers and they say Kenyan workers are better than the others because they’re hardworking,” stated Dr Ruto at the time.

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.

Saudi Arabia graphic

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.

The government has been under immense pressure to ring-fence the safety of Kenyans working abroad, with lobby groups noting that it’s the cardinal responsibility of every State to protect its citizens wherever they are on the globe.

Read: House team pledges to end pain of Kenyans in Middle East

In March last year, the Kenyan government announced the blacklisting of at least 26 recruitment agencies from sending domestic workers abroad as a measure to enhance protection from exploitation and rights violation.

Earlier in November 2022, the government had spelt out a plan to set up safe houses for Kenyan workers in the Middle East, raising hopes that a solution was finally in the offing.

Labour Cabinet Secretary would later dim the optimism with a declaration last July that inadequate funding was hampering the execution of her mandate in protecting Kenyan migrant workers.

During the 11-month period to November last year, remittances from Saudi Arabia grew 24.8 percent to $337.8 million (Sh54.03 billion), making it the second-largest source after the US which accounted for 55.7 percent, or $2.1 billion (Sh335.9 billion), of the total remittances.

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*Story updated and revised.