x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Pay domestic staff what they're owed

Minimum wage laws are well-meaning, but the first order of business should be ensuring that maids are paid what their contracts stipulate.

For the Philippine government to defend and advance the welfare of its citizens living in this country is altogether natural and sensible. But as well meaning as Manila's new policy aimed at guaranteeing a minimum wage to Filipina domestic workers in the UAE may be, it will ultimately prove ineffective without other important changes - namely, ensuring that signed contracts are honoured in the first place.

As The National reported yesterday, the Filipino government is now prepared to require a monthly minimum wage of $400 (Dh1,470) for household workers in the UAE, and to blacklist or suspend recruitment agencies that do not demand that amount from employers.

Remittances from citizens working overseas brought the Philippines $1.93 billion in October alone, its central bank says. The annual inflow equals 10.3 per cent of GDP for the country of 95 million, the World Bank reports, a percentage higher than that for any other populous country.

Beyond macroeconomics, remittances are a vital lifeline for tens of thousands of Filipino families. So the Filipino government is only meeting its responsibilities in trying to get the best deal it can for these expatriate workers. But there is good reason to ask if demanding a wage near Dh1,500 a month should be the first order of business.

First, the move risks pricing Filipina domestic workers out of the market, since other countries require smaller wage guarantees. Second, employing families may be tempted to demand much more effort from anyone paid Dh1,470; maids would have little recourse. One employment bureau employee in Abu Dhabi told this newspaper some employers are warning "they'll ask their maid to work 24 hours" a day for that wage.

Mandating minimum pay is well-meaning, and yet, workers promised good conditions and fair pay before leaving home often receive neither once they arrive. The first order of business should be ensuring that maids are paid what their contracts stipulate. And that is where blacklisting employers, punishing recruitment agencies and calling on local authorities to investigate claims of mistreatment can be most effective.

Labour-sending governments, the authorities here, placement agencies, and employers all have a duty to do the right thing. In time, minimum pay for all domestic workers - regardless of nationality - can be discussed. But before addressing how to get maids what they deserve, let's tackle the issue of getting them what they are promised.