x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Filipino domestic workers phase-out 'does not single out countries'

The Philippine government's five-year phase-out plan for domestic workers will ban them from working for abusive recruitment agencies and employers, authorities say.

Juliet Lasalita, a manager at a recruitment agency in Al Ain, says the phase-out programme is a good idea.
Juliet Lasalita, a manager at a recruitment agency in Al Ain, says the phase-out programme is a good idea.

The Philippine government's five-year phase-out plan for domestic workers will ban them from working for abusive recruitment agencies and employers, not single out countries, authorities say.

"We will be tightening the rules and regulations of the Poea [Philippine Overseas Employment Administration] on the household service workers policy," said Hans Cacdac, head of the agency.

"It's not going to be a ban on a particular country."

Nasser Munder, the labour attache in Abu Dhabi, said the move would send a strong message to UAE recruitment agencies allied to agencies in the Philippines that falsely claim to have connections with Poea.

"We know that under administrator Cacdac's watch, many agencies have been suspended and had their licence cancelled," Mr Munder said.

He said the Philippine overseas labour office in Abu Dhabi had often recommended for the Poea to blacklist employers who had been involved in physical and sexual abuse, non-payment of salaries for six months, and other forms of mistreatment.

"We've been doing these for years but [we] don't publicise it," he said. "This year alone, we recommended three employers and six recruitment agencies for blacklisting."

But employers have found a way to get around the ban.

"The banned employer would ask his sister, brother or other relatives to sponsor a maid," Mr Munder said. "One time we found out that a baby was the sponsor."

Juliet Lasalita, 45, a manager of a recruitment agency in Al Ain, said the phase-out programme was a good idea.

But Ms Lasalita said the Philippine overseas labour office should also meet recruitment agencies in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain and ask them to provide a list of abusive employers.

"There are so many recruitment agencies that do not have counterpart agencies in the Philippines and are not accredited with the labour office," she said.

"Household workers are hired through brokers and not through the Poea."

Mr Cacdac said the second part of the plan was to appeal to government agencies in the Philippines  to provide alternative jobs to domestic workers, particularly college graduates and professionals.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in Manila reported at the weekend that the plan for the phase-out programme would be finalised before the end of this year, but Mr Cacdac would not set a specific time.

"It could be earlier than that," he said.

Manila amended the Migrant and Overseas Filipino Workers Act in 2010, allowing citizens to be sent only to countries "where the rights of Filipino migrant workers are protected".

Under the reform, Filipinos can work in a country only if it has social and labour laws that protect their rights, has ratified international declarations on the protection of migrant workers, and has bilateral agreements with the Philippines on the protection of workers' rights.

The UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Oman are among the 187 countries that have been deemed to comply with protections for Filipino migrant workers.

Emmanuel Geslani, an overseas recruitment consultant in Manila, said the phase-out plan was "a tacit acceptance that the reform package was a failure".

He was referring to reforms that the Philippine employment administration introduced in December 2006, stating that domestic workers must be at least 23 years old, must receive a monthly minimum wage of US$400 (Dh1,467) and that workers must not pay any placement fee.

Maids, nannies, family drivers, cooks and gardeners are among the job positions that fall under the category of home-services workers. Most are women.

"We don't see the reform package as a failure," Mr Cacdac said.

"The phase-out programme is more of a tightening and reinforcing of our existing rules and regulations to make sure that local and foreign-placement agencies, including employers, abide by these."

rruiz@thenational.ae