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Labour unions urge government to open schools for domestic workers

[Syria] Two south-east Asian domestic workers arrive on a late flight to Damascus airport. [Date picture taken: 12/18/2006]
(Hugh Macleod/IRIN)

A scarcity of work for women in Syria has forced local labour unions to urge the government to open schools to train Syrian women to become domestic workers.

The aim of the move is to address Syria’s soaring unemployment rate, and remove the stigma of working as a domestic employee.

Domestic work in Syria has been traditionally done by immigrant workers. In a recent survey into the impact of foreign labour on the domestic market, Syria’s Trade Unions estimated that as many as 60,000 foreigners, mainly from Indonesia, Philippines and Ethiopia, were now working in Syria.

The growing number of foreign domestic workers (FDWs) who work as cleaners, cooks and care-givers, have been filling the jobs that most Arabs feel are not good enough for them. This has upset Syria’s labour market, leaving one in five Syrians unemployed, 80 percent of them aged under 30-years-old.

“There is high unemployment in Syria and many Syrian girls want domestic work,” Abdel Rahman Iskahe, press officer for the Syrian Trade Unions told IRIN.

“But there is a problem in Syrian culture that Syrians feel domestic work is beneath them. We have suggested to the government to open a school to train girls and change perceptions.”

FDWs have posed more than a threat to the local labour market in Syria over recent years. Many immigrant workers have been working illegally, and some have faced physical abuse by their employers.

In 2002, the Syrian government passed a law banning the employment agencies that deal in foreign domestic workers(FDWs).

Instead, according to the first report into foreign domestic workers in Syria, by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the law has not stopped manpower agencies from operating, “but has instead allowed their work to go unregulated, making them sites of further exploitation and abuse of many FDWs”.

The IOM report found a number of cases of abuse against FDWs. Half of the 28 live-in care-givers interviewed worked 19 hour days, were forbidden from leaving the house alone, and had no regular days off. Four Philippine interviewees said they had been physically abused by their employers, while one said her employer attempted to sexually abuse her several times.

Since the ban on employment agencies for FDWs, the Philippines and Sri Lanka no longer allow their nationals to work as domestic workers in Syria.

The Trade Unions have lobbied the government to pass fresh legislation to regulate the FDW industry which Iskahe reckons accounts for US $100m a year being sent out of the country as FDWs send money homes to their impoverished families.

In the meantime, the agencies continue to operate, albeit illegally, and defend their right to import women.

According to an employee of one such agency in Damascus, who wished to remain anonymous, “Every month the boss goes to Malaysia and brings six girls back to Syria with him,” she said. “We have been open for four years and no girl has reported any physical abuse and we always ask that they be given their own room.”


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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