Philippine fact-finding team urges maid ban

Lily B. Libo-on?and Mary Nammour
Filed on November 18, 2009

Some Philippine lawmakers are calling for a total ban on sending Filipinos to the Middle East to be domestic workers

After a fact-finding mission discovered many were treated as slaves and were sexually and physically abused.

A three-member delegation of the Philippine House Committee on Workers Affairs recently visited 400 distressed workers in five cities — Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the UAE, Amman in Jordan, and Riyadh and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.

“We found out violations in all three countries,” said congressman Carlos Padilla, one of the members of the delegation.

“Many of these affected workers are victims of illegal recruiters, who are now facing various charges. Others are runaway domestic helpers who are sexually or physically abused by their employers,” he told Khaleej Times.

Padilla said that domestic workers interviewed through the Filipino Resource Centres in each of the cities had advised the delegation to institute a ban against sending domestic workers to the region.

The Philippine government’s 1995 Migrant Workers Act requires that a host country’s labour laws protect Filipino workers.

The delegation was originally sent by the Philippines Congress, due to an increased number of reports of abuse, to inform the committee on a possible amendment to the Act, but Gabriela Partylist Representative Luzviminda Ilagan said that the team was overwhelmed by the magnitude of problems faced by the domestic workers.

“They are treated as modern-day slaves,” he said.

Major General Mohammed Ahmed Al Marri, head of the General Directorate of the Residency and Foreigners Affairs-Dubai, told Khaleej Times that the directorate has not yet been informed of the mission’s findings.

“None of the Philippines officials have contacted us in that regard,” Al Marri said.

Fact-finding Team Urges Ban on Maids to Gulf

“We cannot comment on something we are not formally informed about. We need to know first the source of this information.”

Al Marri maintained that his directorate, formerly known as the Dubai Naturalisation and Residency Department, was not the sole authority responsible for addressing issues pertaining to the expatriate domestic workforce.

According to Major-General Al Marri, if the information proved accurate, the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs-Dubai and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would then determine the next step. A Philippines prosecution team has begun investigating the cases of 27 of 135 workers in Dubai. These cases were prioritised due to claims of human trafficking but others are due to be investigated by Philippines officials.

The problem of employers keeping the employees’ passports and the laws of host countries in the Middle East requiring the employers to sign the exit visas have made it difficult for the Philippines Overseas Labour Office (POLO) to immediately repatriate the workers, which include another 60 in Abu Dhabi.

Earlier, the UAE government unveiled plans to improve conditions for domestic helpers by regulating working hours and requiring employers to provide health care coverage and even allocating holiday time. Khalifa Salem Al Mazrooei, UAE’s diplomat at the UN, said in October this year that the UAE government is drafting a law that will protect maids and improve their conditions.

This was in response to the criticism from Amnesty International and other human rights groups that say domestic workers in the Gulf do not receive enough protection from abuse by their employers. In April 2007, the UAE adopted a unified employment contract for domestic workers starting April 1, 2007 as part of the Emirates’ efforts to protect the workers from abusive employers.

The Philippine Department of Labour and Employment said at the time that the unified employment contract contained all the provisions of the Philippine model contract for domestic workers, including raising the minimum monthly salary from $200 to $400.

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