x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Maids abscond as many are unprepared for Ramadan workload

Women's shelter expects number of absconding maids to spike, as many seek its sanctuary during Ramadan.

ABU DHABI // A women's shelter run by Filipino labour and welfare officials is expecting a rise in the number of absconding housemaids seeking its sanctuary during Ramadan.

"This is a yearly trend all over the Middle East," said James Mendiola, a welfare officer at the Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi who worked in a similar role in Kuwait between 2004 and 2007.

"They usually complain of being overworked. They wake up early to cook, help prepare the iftar dinner in the afternoon, serve the visitors and work until past midnight."

Many housemaids, especially those new to the country, are not accustomed to the workload during the first two weeks of the holy month. Struggling to cope, some decide to run away.

Mr Mendiola said household workers should be made to understand the importance of Ramadan.

"It's a busy time for female employers who prepare iftar dinners and welcome guests into their homes," Mr Mendiola said. "On the positive side, the employer and the maid develop a special bond during Ramadan."

At the moment, more than 80 women, mostly housemaids, are staying at a makeshift shelter at the embassy in Al Bateen.

They left their jobs after complaining of lack of food and sleep, being overworked and unpaid for months.

At least two women arrive at the shelter every day, except on weekends when the number increases to 10, according to Ophelia Almenario, another welfare officer in Abu Dhabi.

Emma Depad, 45, a manager of a recruitment agency in Abu Dhabi, said recruiters informed housemaids beforehand about what to expect during Ramadan.

"We urge them to be more patient and hardworking," she said. "We also tell them that maids are rewarded with gifts during Eid Al Fitr."

A similar shelter in Dubai provides refuge to 56 Filipina housemaids. Last Ramadan, though, that number swelled to more than 200.

"We really hope fewer maids will run away from their employers this Ramadan," said Amilbahar Amilasan, the labour attache in Dubai.

The Philippine overseas labour office in Dubai will be moving to a new villa in Al Qusais this month, he said.

rruiz@thenational.ae