x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Filipino council urged to get tough on labour contracts, trafficking

Member of Filipino community's new governing council wants it to set up a rights and welfare committee to help compatriots who have been mistreated.

From left, Matilyn Bagunu, Alan Bacason, Letty Samuel, Manuel Cordova and Leny Alzaga at the Philippine consulate in Dubai.
From left, Matilyn Bagunu, Alan Bacason, Letty Samuel, Manuel Cordova and Leny Alzaga at the Philippine consulate in Dubai.

DUBAI // A member group of the Filipino community's new governing council is launching a second controversial bid to have the body more actively push for expatriate rights.

Migrante-UAE, an organisation created to support Filipino expatriates, wants the governing council of the Filipino Community in Dubai and the Northern Emirates (FilCom) to set up a rights and welfare committee to help those mistreated by their employers.

It would look into labour contract disputes, illegal recruitment, trafficking of Filipinas and abuse of domestic staff.

But the proposal is likely to meet stiff opposition from other council member groups who are wary of creating tension between FilCom and the Philippine consulate.

Yuri Cipriano is the chairman of Migrante-UAE, one of 12 Filipino associations elected by community leaders to FilCom's governing committee last Friday.

When the member group first submitted the proposal to the council's predecessor, the executive committee of the Filipino community, in October last year, the plan won support from only one of the 11 members and did not go to a formal vote.

"One of those sitting on the executive committee remarked that it would hurt the feelings of consulate officials," said Mr Cipriano.

"Another person talked about an overlapping of the consulate and embassy's functions."

He said the committee chairwoman, Analiza Magno Concepcion, had "wanted a committee that wasn't anti-government, but one that is an extended arm of the government.

"She did not want to offend the consulate by agreeing to the creation of this committee. She feared that the consulate might, as a result, not cooperate or support the Filipino community's programmes and activities."

The new council, which serves as an umbrella for 99 Filipino community groups, supports the work of the Philippine consulate in Dubai. It aims to foster unity among Filipinos in the six emirates outside of Abu Dhabi.

"The FilCom must serve and defend the rights of overseas Filipino workers," Mr Cipriano said. "It should not be beholden to any official or government agency."

Migrante-UAE wants the rights and welfare committee to be an advocate for workers, conducting research on problems and encouraging all Filipino organisations to look into the causes of and solutions to migrants' problems.

Alan Bacason, the representative of the Filipino Human Resources Practitioners' Association on the council, said it was too early to talk about reviving the proposal.

Mr Bacason's group received 46 votes last weekend, coming second to St Mary's Filipino Community Choir, which received 52. Migrante won 30 votes. "I can't discuss the pros and cons now," he said. "Let's wait until after we've elected a president."

This Friday the 12 council members will meet to choose a president, vice president, secretary, treasurer and internal auditor, as well as a committee chairman.

"It's good that Migrante is a council member because we'll have some check and balance," said Mr Bacason. "Migrante's main concern is the well-being of Filipino migrants. They will see to it that the council has programmes dedicated to that sector.

"It could be a lecture on the UAE's laws, going to the hospital and the police station, and all other efforts to reach out to migrants."

Mr Bacason said Migrante-UAE would have an opportunity to present its proposal, although he warned: "We in the council have a tendency to play it safe. We need to listen and find a middle ground."

But Wafa Kasimieh, the vice president of the Lambunaonons in the UAE group, which also received 30 votes, said she would oppose it.

"We can't go against our consulate, the UAE and the Philippine governments," Ms Kasimieh said. "We need to work hand in hand with our officials and support them."

rruiz@thenational.ae