SCORES of Zimbabwean women employed as domestic workers in Oman are being subjected to deplorable living and working conditions that include constant beatings, overwork, underpayment and forced labour, an official investigation has concluded.
The Zimbabwean Embassy in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, has established that some local employment agents working in collusion with criminal syndicates in the Middle East country were luring Zimbabwean women to the Sultanate through false promises of well-paying jobs before trading them off into virtual slavery.
The embassy recently dispatched senior officials on a consular visit to Muscat, the capital of Oman, after being inundated with calls from several Zimbabwean women employed as domestic workers raising alarm about their working conditions.
Counsellor Onismo Chigejo led an official delegation from the embassy on a two-day fact-finding mission to Muscat on February 18 where the team learnt of the harrowing conditions Zimbabwean expatriate workers were living under.
It was established that most of the women had their passports confiscated on arrival and were being forced to see out their two-year employment contracts in spite of poor working conditions.
Some of the employers are reportedly demanding up to US$2 500 from the women in return for their freedom.
Most of the domestic workers were earning between US$60 to US$80 per month.
A report from Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to the UAE, Lovemore Mazemo, addressed to Foreign Affairs and International Trade secretary, Ambassador James Manzou, in possession of The Sunday Mail, outlines in detail the appalling conditions some of the domestic workers are living under.
It says several women had developed suicidal tendencies on account of the harsh living conditions.
Ambassador Mazemo proposed a Government ban on migration by Zimbabweans to Oman to work as maids.
Government, reads the report, should assist the women with financial support to buy their freedom back.
“Secretary, from the consular visit, the Embassy noted that Zimbabwean maids in Oman are working under conditions that they themselves consider to be forced labour or slavery,” reads the report in part.
“Some of the challenges that they are facing include working for between 15 to 18 hours per day with no rest; no off days even when one is sick; salaries are not paid in full or on time; being forced to work for large extended families; confiscation of passports by employers; physical assaults and verbal abuses; confinement to the house for long periods of time; denial of adequate food as well as the inability to leave an employer and work for another one before the end of their two-year contracts.”
The Embassy, according to the report, also established that the workers’ communication with the outside world is severely restricted.
Some of the employees are not allowed to have cellphones with local numbers in order to prevent them from communicating with locals including the police.
“As a way forward, the Embassy strongly recommends that the Department of Social Welfare should consider taking action to rescue some of the maids by raising the money which the employers of the maids are demanding back.
“Two of the maids are now displaying suicidal mentalities much to the fear of Zimbabweans in Oman.
“The two maids openly told consular officers that they were seriously considering committing suicide as a way to end their suffering and enslavement.
“The Government may wish to consider banning Zimbabwean nationals from migrating to Oman to work as maids.”
The Embassy said most of the women were unaware of labour laws in Oman.
Oman is one of the countries where the kafala labour system is religiously enforced.
The system is used to monitor migrant labourers, working primarily in the construction and domestic sectors in Gulf Co-operation Council member states and a few neighbouring countries.
It requires all migrant workers to have an in-country sponsor, usually their employer, who is responsible for their visa and legal status.
Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister David Musabayana said Government was seized with the matter.
“We have heard about the story, it actually came through my desk. We have asked these workers to form groups so that we have an appreciation of the number of people affected.
“We have since activated our systems and notified the Social Welfare Department, Home Affairs and all other Government institutions involved so that we can verify who these people are,” he said.
Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Professor Paul Mavima said: “Once we receive the report and go through it, we will make deliberations and intervene by engaging both governments to map a way forward.
“It is imperative that those workers be brought back home if necessary and we will handle it the way we did those who were in Kuwait.”
In 2016, Government repatriated dozens of Zimbabwean women who had been sold into slavery in Kuwait.
According to the Embassy report on the situation in Oman, most of the women were recruited by agents in Zimbabwe and South Africa while their sponsors were usually Nigerian nationals.
These agents work with sponsors in Oman.
The agents in Zimbabwe secure visas and air tickets for the maids by sending copies of the women’s passports to sponsors in Oman.
When the women arrive in Oman, they are received by the sponsor who then sends them to families in need of domestic workers.