By Mahmoud Ahmad
I HESITATED a lot before deciding to write this article, as I was afraid it would be misunderstood. As the headline suggests it could be misconstrued that I’m condoning an act of cheating. But in reality, am not, but a number of stories from both the sponsored and the sponsors made me believe otherwise.
What motivated me finally to write about this subject is the many stories that were told to me by both the employers and the expat workers had the tinge of morality — that short-changing the other is really not akin to an immoral act. There is an idea or belief among some of the sponsors that it is “permissible” to overwork the recruited expat worker or hand him/her more tasks that is not included in the contract or specified in any agreement between the two. This injustice toward the expat workers triggered a counter from the employed where an irrational belief grew that “it is permissible to steal from the sponsor” and cheat him/her in every way possible to maximize one’s money or compensate the effort lost from being unjustly overworked. I state on record that I am not voicing an opinion here but just stating the two sides and will allow you’ll to draw your own conclusion at the end.
What got the wheels of my mind turning was my meeting with an angry sponsor who was telling me that his driver has been cheating him for many years as he found out lately that he was stealing money from him in many ways. He blamed himself first for fully trusting him on financial matters, even if it was for small transactions. He found out that he was charging him extra when it came to filling gasoline tank as he split the profit with the gas station worker, which he later discovered was the oldest trick in the book for stealing.
He would always tell his driver to bring a receipt each time he filled gasoline in the car. He, only of late, discovered that the driver charged SR10 or SR15 extra and share some of it with the gas station worker. He said that this was going on for many years and God only knows how much illegal money he had made. The sponsor said that he stumbled on the driver’s con by accident when the gas station worker told on the driver’s activity. This the attendant reported to the sponsor following a dispute with the driver. The incident led the sponsor to believe that the driver must have cheated him in many other ways as the sponsor entrusted the driver in doing other small errands.
Another sponsor discovered by accident that his driver was providing transportation services to other families without his knowledge. Again this chicanery was discovered by chance when the traffic department contacted him following an accident. His driver was involved in an accident with women inside his car, and this the traffic department relayed to him. The sponsor was shocked as his wife and daughters were in the house and did not know what women the traffic department was talking about. When he went to the traffic police headquarters, he discovered that his driver was secretly providing services to many families in the neighborhood and making extra money using the sponsor’s car.
It is the same with domestic help as many families discover that they are the first to blame when things disappear from the house. Clips of domestic help caught with stolen goods as they leave for their country for good are widely circulating. They have created a market for people who see themselves as “experts” in searching domestic help on final exit or on their way home for a vacation for “stolen items.”
Sponsors themselves are not off the hook, as it is believed that a good majority are the ones that push these low-paid expats to limits of “working on the side” or what they call “stealing”. I strongly believe that if a worker was paid on time, treated nicely, and not forced to do extra work or do other jobs, then there would be no room for the expats cheating the sponsor. How many times have we heard stories of domestic help, recruited to take care of simple house tasks, ending up taking care of infants, doing big house tasks with no vacation and sometimes having to go without pay or get delayed wages. They are always denied an annual vacation back home for the fear of them not returning back, which makes them technically speaking “prisoners.” Domestic help usually take out their frustration and revenge on sponsors either by violence or stealing, and we have seen many incidents to prove that.
How many drivers, who come to work for families, end up working twelve hours a day, sometimes without pay. They end up, in addition to driving, being responsible for cleaning the cars, the yards and the street in front of the house, which is against their contract. How many professional workers, who come to work for companies, end up doing more tasks than what is specified in the contract. If the worker objects, then he/she
might face termination. So for the fear of losing the job, they endure the injustice in silence.
I am a strong believer that honesty and good treatment toward the low-paid workers will bear good fruits for good treatment from a sponsor will always beget good treatment from an employee, and rarely cause cheating. If a sponsor plans to overwork or add additional task to his/her worker, then he/she should get permission first and make sure that whatever added work is paid for extra and is not part of the specified salary.
I know there are exceptions, and there are people who will cheat and will do whatever to earn more money but the overwhelming majority will not if treated well. I end this with the Prophet, peace be upon him, saying, “Fear Allah wherever you are, do good deeds after doing bad ones, the former will wipe out the latter, and behave decently toward people.”
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org