ABU DHABI // Despite several high-profile cases of household worker abuse in Saudi Arabia the Philippines has no immediate plans to recommend a ban on sending domestic workers to the Middle East.
Instead more information is needed, said Walden Bello, a representative of the Akbayan party list at the Philippine congress.
Mr Bello, who is also the chairman of the Congress' committee on overseas workers affairs (COWA), arrived in Riyadh one week ago as part of a delegation investigating how Filipino migrant workers in the country are being treated and assessing the quality of services provided by Philippine government offices in Saudi Arabia.
"The situation of our household workers in Saudi Arabia is quite problematic," said Mr Bello, a representative of the Akbayan party list at the Philippine congress. "There are numerous cases of abuse, rape and maltreatment."
Originally the team had also planned to visit Abu Dhabi and Dubai, but has decided to "focus on Saudi Arabia at the moment", said Mr Bello.
In November 2009, a group of Filipino congressmen recommended that their government stop sending household workers in the Middle East after a fact-finding trip to the UAE, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. They interviewed at least 400 women staying in different shelters in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Amman, Jeddah and Riyadh. This time around, said Mr Bello, "We need to investigate the situation of the household workers and gather more information before making any recommendations".
Of particular concern are the cases of Filipinos being jailed in Saudi Arabia, including those on death row, he said.
John Leonard Monterona, the regional co-ordinator for Migrante, a Filipino migrant rights group, said about 10,000 Filipinos are detained in various jails in the Middle East. Up to 6,000 of those are in Saudi jails.
The COWA members have not yet made plans for a separate fact-finding trip to the UAE, but Mr Bello said that the congressmen were committed to visit key cities in the Middle East with a high concentration of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) this year.
"The UAE is one of the countries with a high demand for all categories of Filipino workers, including domestic helpers," he said. "And we want to make sure that working conditions are favourable and their rights are safeguarded in the Middle East."
There are 30,000 household workers from the Philippines in the UAE, a fraction of the between 500,000 and 600,000 expatriate population.
Mr Bello said that the best way to protect the rights and welfare of Filipino migrant workers is through a bilateral labour agreement that identifies the responsibility of the host country towards the workers, and the workers' rights and entitlements which the host government must guarantee.
"There are existing bilateral labour agreements between the Philippines and Saudi Arabia, as well as the Philippines and the UAE," Mr Monterona of Migrante said. "What is needed is a bilateral agreement to ensure that the rights and welfare of overseas Filipino workers in these host countries are protected."