x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Counsellor helps to protect rights of UAE expat workers

Migrante UAE provides training to community members so they can aid compatriots with labour disputes.

ABU DHABI // Alex Lapore counsels domestic workers in labour disputes of all sorts, including overwork, lack of food and sleep or their salaries not being paid.

The Dubai-based accountant, who has handled about 20 work dispute cases, helped a Filipina who was lured to the country with a promise of a job as a maid but who was forced to work as a prostitute.

"It's fulfilling to help those in need of our help," said Mr Lapore, 34. He has been a member of the UAE branch of Migrante, an organisation created to protect Filipinos working overseas, since May last year.

When the migrant-rights group was set up in Dubai in 2003, the officers launched a rights and welfare assistance programme (RWAP) to educate Filipinos about migration and its social costs.

Those who complete a knowledge and skills training workshop on documenting cases, counselling techniques, proper case handling and follow-up and a basic paralegal course become RWAP officers.

Mr Lapore, who has been certified, said Migrante UAE came to his aid when he lost his job in August last year.

"I worked for one year and four months and single-handedly handled the accounts of the company," he said. "My employer brought in an Egyptian and asked me to train him. Without any notice or warning, I was fired from my job."

In September, the company's public relations officer met Mr Lapore at Dubai airport. The officer brought Mr Lapore's passport but did not have his salary, gratuity or airline ticket.

"He was crying," said Karen Tanedo, the chairwoman of Migrante UAE, who went to the airport to aid Mr Lapore. "I guided him through the whole process from the immigration to the Ministry of Labour, where he filed a case and won."

During the first five months of this year, Migrante UAE has handled about 100 cases.

Of those, 70 per cent were from housemaids complaining of verbal, physical and sexual abuse, contract substitution and non-payment of wages. They have handled five rape cases this year.

RWAP officers help those with labour disputes, including contract substitution, unfair and arbitrary dismissal, and non-payment of wages and benefits.

They assist victims and witnesses in preparing sworn statements, and help gather passport and visa copies, employment contracts, business permits and other documents.

"We've also dealt with people who found themselves on the wrong side of the law," Ms Tanedo said.

"They had either overstayed in the country, absconded from their employers or been sent to prison on drug-related charges."

They have counselled victims of illegal recruitment and human trafficking, and coordinated with Filipino diplomats for the immediate repatriation of remains to the Philippines.

Lailyn Lopez, 29, helped a Filipina who was a victim of contract substitution, and a housemaid who was required to work as early as 4am, without adequate food and rest.

"I understand how important our role is since I was in the same situation," she said. "I worked unpaid for five months. My employer issued me three postdated cheques but I found out later that his bank account was closed, so I had no choice but to file a case with the police."

Nhel Morona, the UAE country co-ordinator for Migrante Middle East, said officers must be committed and patient since most of the victims call late at night or early in the morning.

Every three months, Migrante UAE trains members on how to be a good counsellor and deal with cases, discuss the basic rights of migrants, and the different paralegal techniques.

"They should be well versed on the UAE's laws and the proper procedure of handling cases," Mr Morona said.

"We are now speaking to some legal consultants and lawyers who can help us facilitate our paralegal training."