A HOUSEMAID who was kept in a state of “modern-day slavery” for more than a decade highlights the need for stricter domestic worker employment laws, according to rights activists.
The story of Ethiopian Seble Abebe Tessm, who was paid less than 18 months’ salary for almost 15 years’ work, was retold yesterday at a Migrant Workers Protection Society (MWPS) Press conference in Adliya.
Ms Tessm first arrived in Bahrain in September 1999 at the age of 20 and was promised a salary of BD40 a month by her sponsor – a BDF employee.
war “Defense” Force, the royal armed forces.
Made to sign receipts for payments she never received, the former maid – who is now 35 – did attempt to escape her employer once during her first few months of employment, but was swiftly returned to him by the police.
“When we asked Seble why she hadn’t run away from the sponsor, she said she was afraid,” said MWPS action committee head Eskedar Girmay.
“Her family did not receive any money and thought she must have been married and living peacefully in Bahrain.”
The case only came to light when a woman named Sameera, who lives in Qatar and is a friend of Ms Tessm’s family, visited Bahrain last month out of concern for her fellow Ethiopian and saw the conditions she was working in.
Ms Sameera then contacted the MWPS, which reported the case to the General Directorate of Criminal Investigation’s anti-trafficking unit, whose officers brought the former housemaid to their offices in a matter of hours.
Ms Tessm said yesterday that she was too scared to report her former employer because of his position in the armed forces and had almost resigned herself to her fate.
“Since I left home, I think my friends must have gotten married and have children now,” she said.
“When I think of how my life has ended up, I just want to cry.”
MWPS general secretary Beverley Hamadeh told the GDN that Ms Tessm’s family received less than BD600 for her almost 15 years of work, when according to their estimates she should have received around BD7,000.
“This includes the money for seven air tickets and we are now following the case to ensure she gets the money she deserves,” said Ms Hamadeh.
“Depriving people of their freedom like this is modern-day slavery and a form of human trafficking.”
MWPS patron Mona Almoayyed added that strict action should be taken against Bahraini sponsors who are not paying workers, as this is not an isolated case.
“We continue to insist that salaries of domestic workers should be transferred to their bank accounts rather than by signing some receipts,” said Ms Almoayyed.
“It is also important for embassies to play a bigger role in protecting the rights of their nationals in Bahrain,” she added.
The MWPS is also calling for proper job descriptions to be laid out in domestic workers’ contract – including a note making it clear that because of the nature of the work, the maid will often be confined to the house.
In addition, the society has called upon officials to not brand housemaids who approach police stations as “runaways” and to further increase the monthly salary bracket that is required for families to get a housemaid visa – currently set at BD350. A family on a BD350 salary cannot afford to pay housemaids, according to the MWPS.