ABU DHABI // Filipino maids crossing into Oman after fleeing their employers now need a certificate from Philippine labour authorities in Muscat before they can receive a work visa.
Ernesto Bihis, the Philippine labour attache in the Omani capital, said absconding maids had been crossing the border aided by unscrupulous recruitment agencies in Al Ain, which conducted interviews, applied for work visas and sent them to Omani employers.
Mr Bihis said this had been going on for at least six years.
Nasser Munder, the labour attache in Abu Dhabi, said recruitment agencies in Dubai had been sending absconding maids to Buraimi, just over the border from Al Ain. "These women want to continue working overseas," said Mr Munder. "Instead of returning to the Philippines, they would rather cross the border and try to land a job in Muscat."
But runaways will no longer be issued work visas in Oman unless they obtain a no-objection certificate from the Philippine overseas labour office in Muscat, said Mr Bihis.
The Omani government introduced the policy late last month, putting the onus for obtaining the certificate on the country's accredited recruitment agencies.
A sponsor cannot directly apply for a work visa.
Some maids who flee to Oman find themselves in the same situation they experienced in the UAE - or worse. There are 46 women living at the Filipino Workers' Resource Centre, run by labour and welfare officers in Muscat.
"Ninety-nine per cent of these women have come from the UAE, mostly from Abu Dhabi," said Mr Bihis. "They crossed the border at Buraimi and were hired by Omani employers."
The women at the centre worked in Oman for between four and 18 months before fleeing. They complained of lack of sleep, being overworked and verbal, psychological and physical abuse.
Mr Bihis expects the number of maids seeking refuge at the shelter to drop by the second quarter of this year.
"When they abscond, we can't run after their agency in the UAE since it is beyond our jurisdiction," he said.
Mr Munder said the labour office would stop agencies processing contracts in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain if they were found to have committed offences.
"Some workers said they were being forced by these agencies to sign a contract to work in Oman," he said. "We welcome the [certificate] requirement, which will deter workers with existing contracts in the UAE from crossing the border."