The Foreign Service Journal - March 2014 - page 13

MARCH 2014
someone home to let in repair people
or watch a sick child was irresistible. (As
a bonus, our boys learned to vacuum,
dust, do dishes and cook.)
We have always made a point of com-
plying with local labor laws and paying
high salaries overseas, because doing so
makes an important contribution to the
local economy, represents good labor
practices and is just common sense.
After all, these are the people with full
access to our house and children every
Besides treating our staff with respect
and friendliness, we also provided
training to enhance their skills and
employability for when we departed. For
example, in Nairobi I had our driver/gar-
dener and cook/housekeeper cross-train
one another so that each could fill in for
the other, which enabled both of them to
take paid vacations and sick leave. I have
no doubt that our staff communicated
what good employers Americans were to
their families and neighbors, building up
local good will.
As a labor officer, I established several
initiatives to protect Kenyans who went
to the Middle East for work. I obtained
a copy of Saudi labor regulations and
protections for migrants for distribution
in Kenya, collected the laws and protec-
tion programs in European and other
countries, and trained Kenyan diplomats
on how to protect compatriots facing
abusive employers.
I also worked with nongovernmental
organizations and the United Nations
to build awareness of the abuse of child
domestics in Kenya. The State Depart-
ment’s annual human rights and traffick-
ing reports highlight such conditions and
encourage reforms around the world.
The countries where these employees
originate can also do a lot to protect their
migrant workers. The Philippines’ model
is the best I have encountered. In Seoul,
when we hired a Filipina housekeeper
who had been let go by another U.S.
embassy family, we had to submit a copy
of our contract with her to the Philippine
embassy for approval of the terms and
conditions; only then would the Korean
Immigration Department extend her
Each year, she had to go to her
embassy for an interview so officials
could check on her treatment and con-
firm we were abiding by the contract.
Our housekeeper’s paycheck enabled
her to support an extended family back
home, expanding their house and send-
ing children to school.
So on balance, while I appreciate Ms.
Fabrycky’s concerns about perpetuat-
ing the kafala system she experienced in
the Middle East, I believe that our best
course is to hire domestics so they can
support their extended families, whether
in the host country or a third country.
Offering fair compensation and safe
working conditions is a great way to
inject money into low-income house-
holds, constitutes a good model for other
employers and employees, and builds
good will for the United States.
For all those reasons, we should not
shrink from hiring foreign domestics and
miss these opportunities.
Randy Fleitman
Washington, D.C.
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