Hopes for Bilateral Deal on Filipino Maids’ Pay
‘We are still in talks… on the unified contract for domestic workers,’ says labour attache Ophelia Almenario. Christopher Pike / The National
ABU DHABI // The Philippines has not resumed sending domestic workers to the UAE, but ongoing bilateral talks are expected to yield positive results, Filipino labour officials say.
“We are still in talks with the UAE government, particularly on the unified contract for domestic workers,” said Ophelia Almenario, the labour attache in Abu Dhabi. “If the outcome is favourable, it would help to prevent contract substitution.”
Contract substitution occurs when workers sign a contract in the Philippines but are forced to sign new, inferior ones when they arrive in the UAE.
In June 2014, the Ministry of Interior introduced a unified contract for domestic workers that led to the suspension of the Philippines’ role in verifying and attesting contracts to permit domestic staff to work in the UAE.
Ms Almenario said there was no ban on sending domestic workers to the UAE, as the Philippine missions in Abu Dhabi and Dubai had ratified contracts in certain cases.
Once a contract is ratified, the Philippine overseas labour office would issue a letter of verification, permitting workers to travel to the UAE. “With the exception of new hires, we continue to process and verify contracts of domestic workers who are returning to the same employer,” said Ms Almenario.
Direct hiring of domestic workers may be allowed for members of the diplomatic corps, international organisations and government ministers. Such contracts are also processed and verified by the Philippine missions in the UAE.
The unified contract prepared by the Ministry of Interior allows the employer and the maid to agree on a salary, but the Philippine government has set a minimum monthly wage of US$400 (Dh1,470) for domestic staff.
During bilateral talks last November, the UAE was amenable to contract verification but not stipulating a monthly minimum wage of $400 for domestic workers on the unified contract, according to Ms Almenario.
“The reasons given were no minimum wage has been prescribed under the UAE labour law and the unified contract not only covers Filipinos but other nationalities,” she said.
“But if the salary is less than $400, we will still not verify the contract, as it is going against the Philippine government’s rules.”
Although there has been progress in the bilateral negotiations, no time frame has been set on reaching a resolution or an agreement.
“The deployment of Filipino household workers to the UAE is still on hold,” said Ophelia Domingo, the labour attache in Dubai. “We are waiting for a directive from our new labour secretary, Silvestre Bello.”
Representatives from 80 recruitment agencies in Dubai and the Northern Emirates recently had a meeting with Ms Domingo and Paul Raymund Cortes, the consul general of the Philippines to discuss guidelines for foreign placement agencies.
Those seeking accreditation from the Philippine overseas labour office in Dubai have to be evaluated starting from August 22.
“We are just preparing for the possible redeployment of Filipino household workers to the UAE,” said Ms Domingo.
“We would like to ensure that agencies observe ethical recruitment and comply with our regulations.”
For instance, the Philippine overseas employment administration has made it mandatory for foreign placement agencies to set up a special fund for the welfare needs of domestic workers. The agencies must maintain a minimum amount of $10,000 as escrow deposit.
Recruiters in the UAE should not have been involved in contract reprocessing, human trafficking and illegal recruitment.
Philippine labour officials hope the strict guidelines would curb trafficking of domestic workers.
Presently, 39 maids who fled their employers’ homes are temporarily staying at a labour office shelter in Dubai.
Eighty per cent of them arrived in the UAE on tourist visas arranged by unscrupulous individuals, while the rest were illegally recruited by agencies, said Ms Domingo. “We are compiling all the human trafficking cases so we can endorse them to the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking in Manila so they can act on them,” she said.
A similar shelter in Abu Dhabi houses 56 runaway maids, 85 per cent of whom were illegally recruited and trafficked into the UAE, said Ms Almenario.
“We need to intensify the drive against human trafficking,” she said. “Here, copies of their sworn statements are sent to Manila for prosecution.”