x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Filipinos find their 'crucial' new voice

Eighty Filipino community groups come together to advise Government on how to protect vulnerable migrants and prevent abuse.

Robert Ramos, rear, the chairman of the Filipino organising committee in Dubai, is backed by members of Migrante UAE, a group formed to protect the rights of Filipinos abroad.
Robert Ramos, rear, the chairman of the Filipino organising committee in Dubai, is backed by members of Migrante UAE, a group formed to protect the rights of Filipinos abroad. "We are united by a common interest: to improve lives," said Migrante's vice chairman, Yuri Cipriano, left.

DUBAI // Welfare protection for vulnerable Filipino workers is to be expanded beyond the provision of emergency airfares home, with the launch of a drive to safeguard them against abuses at work. Filipino organisations in the country are moving to unite and form a "new voice" for migrants, pushing for the protection of the working rights of the 600,000 expatriates working in the country.

"Our government officials are accustomed to attending cases of Filipinos on a daily basis," said Robert Ramos, the chairman of the Filipino organising committee in Dubai and the Northern Emirates. "But we need members of our community to follow up these cases and ensure that workers' rights are protected." He is backed by members of the UAE branch of Migrante, an organisation created to protect Filipino workers abroad.

The UAE branch is working on a concept paper that will define the objectives and functions of the committee. "It would require adequate information on the various problems faced by migrants," he said. The organisations would collaborate, for instance, in pursuing abuse cases, backed up by surveys of workers, to draw up of policy recommendations for the governments of the UAE and the Philippines. Mr Ramos announced plans to create the committee at the first migrants forum, which was held in Dubai last month.

He had said 80 Filipino community groups based in Dubai and the Northern Emirates would be joining forces to create it. But he concedes that many of them may have a limited commitment to helping others in trouble. "I'd rather have a small group of committed people who are willing to listen to the problems of our compatriots," Mr Ramos said. "It's not about giving tickets to women at the POLO [Philippine overseas labour office] anymore. Our help doesn't end there. Migrants' problems are far-reaching."

Filipino community groups recently donated five air tickets to women staying at a labour office shelter in Dubai after they fled their employers' homes, complaining of mistreatment and unpaid wages. The leaders of each organisation would form sub-committees to handle research, media and social projects, Mr Ramos said. Yuri Cipriano, the vice chairman of Migrante-UAE, said that if they could gain support from other Filipino organisations, the committee would have a "crucial" voice for Filipino migrants in the Emirates.

He expects the presidents of the two Muslim groups, UAE Maranao Community and the Bangsa Moro Labour Organisation, to be actively involved. Other community groups likely to join the initiative include the Luzviminda Dubai Filipino Community, Pinoy Nationalistic Association, and Kabayan Kapit Bisig. The majority of their members are blue-collar and domestic workers who are vulnerable to abuse, he said.

"We are united by a common interest: to improve our lives and that of our families back home," Mr Cipriano said. "If our rights and welfare are protected here, we will be more productive. This will enable us to contribute to the local economy and at the same time help our families." The rights and welfare committee will look into cases of labour contract violations, illegal recruitment, human trafficking of Filipinas, and the various problems of household workers who are not covered by the labour law.

"We will provide recommendations and conduct an in-depth study on migration, including the root causes of the problems faced by Filipino migrants in the region," he said. "The committee is expected to follow up cases and provide assistance to the victims or those who are in need of advice on labour and legal matters." Mr Ramos, who will be stepping down as chairman, is expected to present the agenda of the new committee before next month's elections, when the heads of the 80 Filipino organisations vote for his successor.

"It will work but it will not be done overnight," he said. "But if no one is willing to start this, we will not accomplish anything to help our compatriots in this country." rruiz@thenational.ae