Vietnamese maids face harsh conditions in Saudi Arabia, including the unbearable heat, long working hours, high demands, and cultural differences. Yet, many women still choose to work as housemaids in this country.
In addition to the harsh conditions, the housemaids face loneliness, culture shock, and mistreatment by the employer families.
While some families treat these women well, others pay salaries below the agreed wage, exploit, and maltreat the maids.
Unfavorable working conditions
“Every day I sleep for around six hours. I wake up at 6:00 am and work until midnight,” Le Kim Dung, 42, one of the Vietnamese maids in Saudi Arabia, said.
Weekend was the only time she could call to talk to Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper, as this was the only day when her employer's family went out.
Despite having worked here for almost 1.5 years, Dung still has trouble getting accustomed to the food which is mostly chicken and bread, as well as the weather which can reach up to 60 degrees Celsius in the summer.
Nguyen Thi Him, 48, a single mother, feels like she is trapped in her employer’s house without anyone to talk to.
“I do not know Arabic to talk to others so I long for a conversation,” Him said.
“Once I heard there are Vietnamese in the neighborhood, I tried my luck one night and shouted, ‘Is there any Vietnamese? Please speak up!', but there was no response."
|A Vietnamese maid in Saudi Arabia is seen fully covered as she leaves the house. Photo: Supplied|
Another problem Vietnamese maids face is not being paid properly, with some employers refusing to pay the agreed amount and others owing the employees a few months’ worth of salary.
One of such cases is Vo Thi Thuy Trang, 27, whose boss has not paid her for the past three months.
“I have worked here for 13 months but I was only paid for 10,” she said.
“When I asked, the owner of the house told me he didn't have the money,” Trang told Tuoi Tre, adding that contacting the employing company was no use either and her lack of Arabic language skills prevents her from running away.
“The contract states that I am going to be paid 1,500 riyal [US$400], but they only paid me that amount for the first three months, and the following months I was paid 1,000 riyal [$267].
“My contract ends in 11 months, so I am just hoping they are going to pay me for the time I will have worked so that I can come home,” she said helplessly.
Poverty is the main reason
Despite the harsh working conditions, difference in culture, and low salary, many Vietnamese still choose to leave their hometowns to work for Saudi Arabian families, who usually have many children but only one maid.
“At first I wanted to go to Taiwan, but I heard that if I went here I would receive financial support and wouldn’t have to pay extra fees so I just agreed,” a 37-year-old Vietnamese maid, H.T.L. from Nghe An, said, indicating that money and expenses were her utmost concerns.
Not being in a position to choose, L. agreed to a low salary of around VND7 million ($300) a month after her husband left her in debt and with three children to raise on her own.
“Me and my ex-husband borrowed money to invest in a business, but then he got to know someone else so he just ran away with the money leaving me with a debt of VND160 million ($7,000),” L. said in despair.
“I came here to earn money to pay off the debt and raise my children,” she added.
|A Vietnamese maid (second left) poses for a photo with other maids in the neighborhood in Saudi Arabia. Photo: Supplied|
Another Vietnamese maid who had no choice but to leave her hometown is N.T. Lien, 28.
Having graduated from the University of Economics Ho Chi Minh City and able to speak English, Lien was under an impression that she would land herself another job other than a maid in Saudi Arabia.
However, she was mistaken.
Lien used to have a regular white-collar job in Vietnam but with her father being a gambler, her family soon found themselves in debt.
In addition, her mother was diagnosed with a deadly illness, forcing Lien out of her comfortable workplace to come to Saudi Arabia for a better salary to pay off the debts and medical expenses of her family.
“The employing company promised me VND25 million [$1,100] as starting financial support and a salary of VND10 million [$430] a month, without having to pay a fee,” Lien said.
“Seeing that I was properly educated, the company pledged to give me a job at an office, but instead I was brought to a family of 10, including seven children, with the youngest being one year old, and other elderly family members,” Lien said.
After three months working in Saudi Arabia, Lien's mother passed away.
“I begged to go home, but the company said they'd only allow me to go if I paid them VND60 million [$2,600],” Lien recalled.
“I implored the owner of the house to let me go home, insisting that ten days later I would come back.
“They already paid over VND100 million [$4,300] to hire a maid so they were worried I'd not come back, but eventually they gave in."