ABU DHABI // Some maids are still not paid a monthly minimum wage of US$400 despite the salary reform package being introduced by the Philippine government for overseas employment in 2006.
Recently, a 24-year-old Filipina housemaid was forced to flee to the labour-office shelter in the capital due to long working hours, a lack of sleep and ill-treatment.
The maid, from Tupi, South Cotabato in the southern Philippines, said her male employer treated her and another maid, also 24, well - but his wife did not.
"She treated us as slaves," the woman said. "She would check for dust on the table, scold us and call us names like 'haywan' [animal] and 'mafi muk' [no brain]. She often told us that Filipinos don't know anything."
Last month, more than 30 recruitment agencies in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain and 40 in Dubai and the Northern Emirates signed an agreement on pay and working conditions with the Philippine association of manpower agencies for UAE.
The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) introduced a reform package in December 2006 requiring household staff to be paid a monthly minimum wage of $400 (Dh1,470), to be at least 23 years old, have received skills training and attended a seminar on language and culture. Recruits should also not pay placement fees.
Lured by a tax-free salary and a better life for her child, the 24-year-old Filipina left her seven-month old baby in the care of her mother to work in the UAE in June.
"I signed a US$400contract but when I arrived here I was told I would get Dh900," she said. "The agency here told me I would not be allowed to use my mobile phone, I couldn't go to church and wouldn't get a day off."
Four months later, she and the other housemaid, also from the Philippines, fled their employer's home in Khalifa City A at 3am by climbing out of a window.
She spoke of her gruelling working hours: from 5.30am to 1am the next day. First thing in the morning, every day, she and another maid - they both slept on a mattress on the floor - washed two 4x4 vehicles and a saloon car. They had to finish by 6.30am so the family could leave for work by 7.30am
At 6.40am, the maid would wake up two of the family's children, girls aged 7 and 9, bathe them and help put on their school uniforms.
The maids prepared breakfast and the girls' lunch boxes. Afterwards she would baby-sit the family's16-month-old daughter.
For two hours, from 8.30am, the women cleaned the seven-bedroom villa and would then begin preparing lunch at about 11am.
The couple usually ate at 3pm, and after washing the dishes, the maids cleaned the house again, ironed clothes and prepared dinner for the two girls, who would be put to bed by 8pm.
On weekends, the family went to their parents' house - which the maids were expected to clean.
"We didn't have any free time to rest," the maid said. "When we returned to Abu Dhabi on Saturday night we were needed to clean their house again."
The maids were allowed to make one or two phone calls home to the Philippines each month - but never to anyone in the UAE.
Their usual fare for breakfast and dinner, they said, would be a piece of Arabic bread, although they would have rice with fish or chicken for lunch, usually at 3.30pm or 4pm.
Both maids will be flying home on Tuesday. The agency that hired them will pay for their air tickets.
Their employer failed to apply for their residence visas, refused to return their passports and never even paid the Dh900 salary.
"I'm going home without any money," the maid said. "I can't do anything about it now but I hope to work abroad again, maybe in an Asian country."