When 25-year-old Marilyn Vinuan accepted a job as a housemaid in Ajman in 2008, she came to save for her family in the Philippines. What she got instead was 18 months of confinement and beatings, torment that ended only when she sought refuge in her embassy.
Stories like these may be the exception in the UAE. But tales of abuse and contract violations happen to domestic help enough that advocates, and now governments, are demanding accountability.
As TheNational reports today, the Philippines is considering banning its citizens from accepting domestic work in three GCC countries - Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE. A resolution to this effect has been proposed in Manila but it awaits approval from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration.
As officials in Manila see it, Gulf employers have so far failed to protect this sector of their workforce. While the UAE has improved the lot of labourers in recent years, workers in the home have too often fallen outside legal protections.
Not all governments will agree, of course. Nepal, for one, last year lifted its ban on women working in Gulf countries, including this one. But there's no disputing that additional protections are needed.
Domestic workers in the UAE are part of the family fabric. Labour laws need to treat them that way. The UAE has in recent years made commendable progress in labour rights, improving health and safety standards, introducing wage protection systems and improving accommodation conditions. But so far legal protections of domestic workers remain inadequate.
Any ban would have serious ramifications for the Philippines; the World Bank ranks the country as the world's 4th largest remittance recipient, with nationals sending US$21.3 billion (Dh78 billion) home annually. That Manila is considering severing a portion of this critical revenue stream illustrates the government's concern.
It's a message of urgency that must not be lost on leaders in the Gulf.