Progress Seen in UAE-PHL Talks on Deployment of Domestic Workers

The Philippines may have not yet resumed its deployment of domestic workers to the United Arab Emirates, but ongoing bilateral talks between the two countries are expected to yield positive results, according to Filipino labor officials.

“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 refers to discarding the original employment contract signed in the Philippines and forcing workers to sign a new law as they arrive in their host country.

The Ministry of Interior on June 2014 introduced a unified contract for domestic workers that bypassed the role of the Philippines to verify and attest contacts to permit domestic helpers 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 in a news report by The National.

While not generally allowed, direct hiring of domestic workers may be permitted 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 Ministry of Interior’s version of a unified contract allows the employer and the maid to mutually agree on salary, but the Philippine government has set a minimum monthly wage of $400 (P18,555) for domestic helpers.

“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 III.”

Meanwhile, representatives from 80 recruitment agencies in Dubai and the Northern Emirates recently had a meeting with Ms Ophelia Domingo and Paul Raymund Cortes, the consul general of the Philippines to discuss guidelines for foreign placement agencies.

Domingo said agencies seeking accreditation from the Philippine overseas labor office in Dubai will be evaluated starting August 22.

“We would like to ensure that agencies observe ethical recruitment and comply with our regulations,” she said.

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.

The strict guidelines are aimed at curtailing trafficking of domestic workers.

Currently, there are 39 maids who escaped from employer homes and are temporarily staying at a labor office shelter in Dubai. It was later found out that 80 per cent of them arrived in UAE on tourist visas arranged by unauthorized individuals, while the remaining ones were illegally recruited by agencies, said 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.