x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Manila hopes to finalise workers’ contract and rights deal

The UAE and Philippines are close to inking a bilateral agreement on domestic workers that will help protect the rights of thousands of Filipina maids in the Gulf country.

ABU DHABI // The Philippines is hoping to finalise a deal that would help end contract substitution and protect the rights of Filipino maids.

“We are faced with a promising new year for household service workers here in the UAE,” Angel Borja Jr, the Philippines’ labour attache in Abu Dhabi, said on Sunday.

“We are hoping to strike a fair deal with the host government for the benefit of our workers.”

The category of household service workers, most of whom are women, includes maids, nannies, family drivers, cooks and gardeners.

In her official visit to the capital in September, the Filipino labour secretary Rosalinda Baldoz began talks on the deal with officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Mr Borja, who began his job in July, said the deal was at the “rudimentary stage”.

“We’re starting off with the review of the existing employment contract and hope to adopt a similar agreement that we signed with Saudi Arabia,” he said.

In May, the Philippines and the kingdom signed an agreement for Saudi Arabia to provide more rights and better protection to domestic workers.

A US$400 minimum (Dh1,469) monthly salary was set, as were weekly rest days and paid holidays.

“We are looking into a substantive part of this agreement, which addresses four points on the ground situation,” said Mr Borja. “These include a strict compliance to the $400 minimum salary; the passport should be in the possession of the worker at all times; one day off a week; and freedom to communicate with the family, and liberty to possess their own mobile phone to call their loved ones.”

On January 27 and 28, Ms Baldoz will meet Saqr Ghobash, the Minister of Labour, and Thikra Al Rashidi, Kuwait’s minister of social affairs and labour, in Manila.

The ministers will plan for the Abu Dhabi Dialogue , a ministerial consultation forum, due to be held in Kuwait in November.

“We expect the bilateral agreement on domestic workers to be mentioned,” Mr Borja said. “Another new feature of this forthcoming agreement is the implementation of a unified contract.”

Currently, foreign workers are asked to sign another contract upon arrival in the UAE.

“We are trying to reconcile two versions of the contract and find a happy combination,” Mr Borja said. “One thing I can say is that the salary is not mentioned in the UAE version.

“From a legal standpoint, it is a form of violation that constitutes contract substitution. Unless the substitute contract is superior in terms of provisions, protective mechanisms and rights and benefits for workers, we will raise no issue over it.”

The substituted UAE contract, he said, was “evidently inferior” than the approved contract by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration.

“It is inferior in terms of the rights and benefits being granted – the protective provisions and the privilege to communicate with their families, which is a human-rights issue,” Mr Borja said.

There is hope the agreement will eventually ease crowding at the women’s shelter in Al Bateen.

The shelter provides refuge to 55 women who have left their jobs complaining of being overworked, not being paid and mistreatment by their employers.

Mr Borja said they would be repatriated in the coming weeks.

Officials receive two to three women a day, and at least 15 women a week are endorsed to UAE immigration before their flight home.

“There has been a progressive reduction in their number,” Mr Borja said. “It peaked at 90 last summer, but we recorded the lowest number, 28, on November 22.”

Ms Baldoz, the Filipino labour secretary, has set a target of zero for all women’s shelters overseas by the end of this year.

“I don’t think we’ll manage to achieve it,” Mr Borja said. “We’ll see the trend next month in terms of new arrivals.”

There are 700,000 Filipinos in the UAE. Ten per cent of them are domestic staff.

rruiz@thenational.ae