x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Hope at last for stranded cleaners

The ordeal appears to be over for 84 Filipina cleaners who were abandoned by their employers at an Ajman villa two weeks ago.

Merly Perez, centre, along with her co-workers of Lavito Building Cleaning Services, sit in their company villa in Ajman on Sunday after their employers abandoned them, owing months of pay. Amy Leang / The National
Merly Perez, centre, along with her co-workers of Lavito Building Cleaning Services, sit in their company villa in Ajman on Sunday after their employers abandoned them, owing months of pay. Amy Leang / The National

DUBAI // The ordeal appears to be over for 84 Filipina cleaners who were abandoned by their employer and left without food, electricity and water at an Ajman villa two weeks ago. The women, who worked for a contracting company cleaning schools, are due cheques for almost three months in back wages that are to be released through the Ministry of Labour today, said Amilbahar Amilasan, the labour attaché in Dubai.

"We also hope that the water and electricity in their villa will be restored once the bills are settled," he added. The women stopped working on September 14, when the majority of them filed a complaint with the Ministry of Labour one day after their electricity was turned off. The issue was settled after a co-ordination meeting yesterday with Benito Valeriano, the consul general in Dubai, and Analiza Magno Concepcion, the new chairman of the Filipino organising committee in Dubai and the Northern Emirates.

The cheques will be handed over by the Ministry of Education to officials at the Philippine overseas labour office in Dubai, who will then turn them over to the Ministry of Labour. "The labour ministry will hand over the salaries to the workers and we will be there to act as witnesses," Mr Amilasan said. The Filipino officials will also look into the payment of the women's end-of-service benefits, such as gratuity and air tickets to Manila, helping those who wish to go home and co-ordinating with the labour ministry to help those who want to remain in the UAE.

The women had worked for Lavito Building Cleaning Services and were deployed to different schools under the UAE Ministry of Education, after arriving in eight batches between January and April last year. They appear to have been victims of contract substitution, said Mr Amilasan. The company has since closed and efforts to find the employer have been in vain, he said.

Merly Perez, 42, who is originally from Marikina City, about 12km from Manila, said the original contracts offered a monthly salary of Dh1,800 and a US$100 (Dh367) food allowance. The document the company submitted to the UAE Ministry of Labour stated a Dh500 basic salary, a Dh100 accommodation allowance and Dh100 for transport. "But I don't recall signing this contract and the signature here isn't mine," she said.

The workers also learnt that their employer failed to process their residence visas, which meant they had been working illegally in the country without valid visas. "We were issued labour cards but our visas were not stamped on our passports," Ms Perez said. On July 27, Ms Perez and her three co-workers filed a case at the labour ministry in Dubai. Their case has since been referred to the Dubai court. The four women attended a hearing on September 21, which was adjourned to October 3. The remaining 80 workers filed a complaint with the labour ministry on September 14.

"Their cases have also been elevated to the Dubai labour court," Mr Amilasan said. Various Filipino community groups have come forward to help the women since learning of their plight. On Friday Ms Perez and her two colleagues received Dh1,825 from Filipinos at a bowling tournament at Khalifa Bowling Centre in Abu Dhabi. At a basketball event at the Al Jazira Club, the players and spectators donated a total of Dh3,157 to the women.

"Knowing that they're unemployed and do not have any means to support themselves, we did not hesitate to extend some help," said Ernesto Refugio, 55, a Filipino engineer in Abu Dhabi. Another group of volunteers from Dubai descended upon the Ajman villa over the weekend, bringing food, toiletries and medicine. Rose Dacaymat, 42, a former fruit vendor from Lubao, Pampanga, about 55km north of Manila, has four children between the ages of 18 and 25.

She came to work as a cleaner in Dubai in February last year, hoping to earn money to build a house for her family. "I don't have any money since we worked unpaid for three months," she said. "Instead of sending money back home, I had to borrow from my youngest daughter." rruiz@thenational.ae