When In Rome, Or Riyahd…

A report today tells the chilling story of a Sri Lankan woman tortured by her Saudi Arabian employer by having nails inserted into her hands and other parts of her body. The torture and mistreatment of female domestic staff by Middle Eastern and Asian employers is not an uncommon event.

Filipina OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) often run away from their employers in Kuwait, U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia after suffering abuse, rape and grievous injury. Singapore, Taiwan, China, South Korea and Hong Kong also have their share of abuse stories and sometimes the Filipina will react violently and suffer prison or execution as a result.

Why do these atrocities occur, over and over? Why more prevalent in some countries than others? Is there some societal or cultural value or standard that allows, even condones the treatment of other human beings in such a vile fashion, provided they are female, or employees or not of the same religion or whatever?

I think there are at least two main streams of thought. In the case of those mistreated by Asian (mostly Chinese) employers one can often see a sense of superiority for their own kind exhibited in many Asian people, almost an arrogant and contemptuous attitude towards those not of their ethnicity. When present in a western person it is labelled racism and is considered a sin, if not a crime. The cultural cringe still with us (westerners) following the end of colonial days and slaving seems to put us automatically on the back foot. We seem to fear calling it what it is when it is a non-white group doing the discriminating.

For those mistreated in the Middle East the abuse of the Islamic religion by many cultural groups is a key factor, surely? The attitude towards women displayed by Muslim men, contrary to the teachings of the Koran I might point out, makes it easy for one to follow the trail from dominating their own female family members to domination and abuse of female employees.

I know personally Filipinas who went to work in the Middle East and were brutally treated from the moment they landed and surrendered their passports to their employer or his agent. They were stuck there for several months working off their passage and application fees on top of what they had paid in cash back in Manila. No days off, worked from before dawn to well after midnight, fed poorly and often beaten and for some, sexually assaulted. It was a living hell.

So why do they still strive so hard to become an OFW? Because the situation at home, thanks in no small part to the rich oligarchy that owns the nation’s wealth and their enforcers in the church, military and police, is such that there is little to no hope of adequate employment. They have to work abroad to remit money for the entire family to live on. Sadly that often breeds a bunch of lazy relatives who do little but wait for the monthly remittance and then complain it is not enough, putting more pressure on the OFW to remain and continue suffering.

With the basic situation grim enough, it is tragic that they then suffer abuse and worse at the hands of their employers. Not all, of course. There are many excellent employers but there are too many bad ones, more than enough for inferences to be drawn.

When you work abroad, either as an OFW or an Australian in an expat situation, you are pretty much on your own. There is little your government can do and too often not a lot they want to do for you.

When you leave our shores you have to resign yourself to their way of life and their standards of acceptable behaviour, whatever they may be. Having worked in several overseas countries myself, I prefer to work in Australia for many reasons, not the least of which is that I understand the culture and can exist within it comfortably.

‘When in Rome’, as the saying goes. That doesn’t mean what the ‘Romans’ are doing is right or wrong but if they do it in their country and it is tolerated or legal there, then so be it. It behooves the individual to do their due diligence and fully investigate the culture before they let the dollar signs block their vision. We can’t grab pitchforks and torches and expect migrants to adapt to our culture if we aren’t willing to do the same should we choose to live in theirs. To expect special treatment based on our ethnicity or race is no different than mistreating others based on theirs, surely?

Finally, when it comes to working in Australia and working safely; know the law and know your rights. It is your responsibility to know what you are allowed and entitled to, not anyone else’s. Sure they should do the right thing but if they don’t then the onus is on you to know, 100%, what should be done and then to make it happen.

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