x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Filipino labour officials in UAE guard against sexual predators

Cameras will be installed as a precaution against sexual abuse at Philippine overseas labour offices and shelters for women.

ABU DHABI // Filipino labour officials will install closed-circuit television cameras at their offices and women's shelter to deter sexual predators.

The cameras will be set up after the Philippine embassy and overseas labour offices move to their new premises in Mushrif this year.

On Tuesday, the Philippines labour secretary, Rosalinda Baldoz, announced reform measures that should be strictly implemented by Philippine overseas labour offices.

These included fast-tracking the repatriation of workers in shelters, prioritising the resolution of their complaints and cases and the installation of CCTV cameras in the labour offices and at the Filipino Workers Resource Centres.

Ms Baldoz said these measures were to "prevent, pre-empt and hopefully root out the alleged malpractices and misdemeanours against overseas Filipino workers, such as "sex-for-fly".

The "sex-for-fly" scheme refers to female workers who are offered immediate repatriation in exchange for sex.

Walden Bello, a congressman, exposed the alleged sexual abuses committed by three officials and one locally hired employee at Philippine overseas labour offices in the Middle East.

Angel Borja Jr, the labour attache in Abu Dhabi, said there was no case of sexual abuse that implicated Filipino labour and welfare officials in the UAE, and he questioned whether the practice was consensual.

"I wonder whether the air ticket is really an incentive that drives the women to engage in sex so they can fly home quickly," Mr Borja said. "I don't think these women would voluntarily submit themselves to this kind of sex-for-fly scheme."

Air tickets could be advanced from the recruitment agency in the UAE, its agency in the Philippines, and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (Owwa), he said.

Owwa advances the repatriation costs of the workers whose recruitment agencies in Manila could not produce tickets within 48 hours. The agencies then reimburse the government.

Ms Baldoz also instructed labour attaches to provide workers with seminars and skills training in preparation for their repatriation.

All staff sent overseas to work in the labour offices are to undergo special training on gender sensitivity, and they should always "observe proper decorum and professionalism" when dealing with the women at these shelters. Gender balance should be observed in the staffing of the Philippine overseas labour offices, Ms Baldoz said.

The male-female composition of the Filipino labour office in Abu Dhabi has been addressed, Mr Borja said. A female welfare officer deals with the women at the shelter, and male workers are dealt with by a man.

"When it comes to welfare cases in this region, it is always our female workers who are more in need of our assistance," Mr Borja said. "All of us have undergone gender-sensitivity training."

More than 50 women who spent weeks at a shelter in the capital after fleeing their employers will fly home in three batches starting next week. The labour office will help repatriate 26 workers, mostly housemaids, next week. The second and third batch of 33 workers will be sent home in successive weeks, bringing the number of shelter occupants down from 96 to 37.

While the women wait for exit passes and air tickets, they can benefit from an on-site reintegration programme. This will ensure they will have income when they get home. "We are determined to implement the reforms in coordination with the Philippine embassy," Mr Borja said.