Tanzanian domestic workers in the Gulf are beaten, sexually assaulted and deprived of pay, rights campaigners said. File picture: BSIP Laurent/Science Photo Library

London - Tanzanian domestic workers in the Gulf are beaten, sexually assaulted and deprived of pay, rights campaigners said on Tuesday as they called for an end to abusive employment rules.

Thousands of Tanzanian women work in the Middle East, often lured by promises of salaries 10 times higher than they could earn at home.

But visa-sponsorship rules in Oman and the United Arab Emirates, known as the kafala system, mean they cannot change jobs without their employer's consent and can be charged with "absconding" if they flee, Human Rights Watch said.

Most of the 50 women interviewed for a report called "Working Like a Robot" were made to work 15 to 21 hours a day and had their passports confiscated, HRW said.

More than half were underpaid and some said they were not paid at all. Around two in five reported physical abuse and the same proportion said they were sexually harassed or assaulted.

Neither the Oman or UAE foreign ministries were immediately available for comment.

Most migrant domestic workers in the Gulf region come from Asian countries. But rights groups say recruiters are increasingly turning to East Africa where protections are weaker.

HRW said employers often got away with paying East Africans far less than Asians.

It called for reform of the kafala system, the introduction of a minimum wage and an end to wage discrimination.

One Tanzanian woman employed in Oman told researchers how her employers attacked her when she returned from hospital after fainting.

She said she was raped by her employer after being stripped and beaten by two women in the family.

"They took the money I earned ... I was scared, traumatised, and didn't know who to speak to," she was quoted as saying.

Another woman, who worked 17-hour days, said she fled after being sexually assaulted.

But when she tried to file a complaint with the police they told her she faced charges for running away and said she must pay a fine of more than $500 (about R7000) or spend time in jail.

The report said Oman's labour laws did not cover domestic workers, while protections being introduced in UAE were weaker than those for other workers.

Rights group Anti-Slavery International said abuse was very common and called on Tanzanian embassies to do much more to help exploited workers.

"It is outrageous that they are being sent back to abusive situations when they ask for help," said spokesperson Jakub Sobik.

Thomson Reuters Foundation