x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Manila delays ban on citizens working as UAE domestics

The decision comes despite a recommendation by the Philippine foreign affairs department, which wants the three countries to improve workers' rights.

ABU DHABI // Filipinos will not be banned from coming to work as domestic staff in the UAE, Qatar and Kuwait for at least six months.

The decision comes despite a recommendation by the Philippine foreign affairs department, which wants the three countries to improve workers' rights.

The governing board of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), which promotes and monitors overseas employment, this week deferred passing a resolution to ban the deployment of household service workers to the three countries.

At a congressional hearing on Wednesday, Carlos Cao Jr, the POEA administrator, said his department had asked for a six-month extension to review the certification of "partially compliant" countries, including Gulf countries. It was accepted by the congressional committee on overseas workers' affairs.

"There are signs that some Gulf countries are willing to amend their labour laws to cover domestic workers," said a Filipino congressman who did not wish to be named. "The extension is a good compromise."

The POEA and the labour department will provide monthly updates on talks between the Philippines and "partially compliant" countries about changing their laws to guaranteeing the protection of domestic workers, he said.

The country's Migrant and Overseas Filipino Workers Act was amended last year to allow Filipinos to work in a country only if it has social and labour laws that protect their rights, has ratified international declarations on the protection of migrant workers, and has bilateral agreements with the Philippines on the protection of workers' rights.

Emmanuel Geslani, an overseas recruitment consultant in Manila, said the six-month extension would give recruitment agencies "an extended lease on their businesses since the delay allows them to deploy more maids".

"We welcome the move because those who are hoping to land jobs as maids in the Middle East won't be affected," Lito Soriano, the chief executive of LBS Recruitment Solutions in Manila.

Once a ban is in place, he said, a domestic worker on holiday in the Philippines could not return to a country that has been certified as "non-compliant" or "partially compliant".

Mr Soriano, who is also the adviser to the Coalition of Licensed Agencies for Domestic Services, attended Wednesday's hearing.

"There were discussions on bilateral agreements and negotiations between our government and some Gulf countries," he said. "It shows their readiness to ensure that household service workers are fully protected."

Domestic staff in the UAE do not fall under the Ministry of Labour, and as such have fewer protections than other workers.

In June, the UAE voted in favour of an International Labour Organisation charter on domestic workers' rights. It addresses many common problems such as non-payment of wages, overwork and contract substitution, a monthly salary paid in cash and at least one day off a week.

The charter also requires governments to regulate private employment agencies and stop employers from deducting recruitment fees from maids' wages.

UAE officials have yet to spell out what changes will be made to give the charter the force of law, or when.

"Kuwait has labour laws that protect maids but it needs to have a bilateral agreement with the Philippines so it would be included in the list of compliant countries," Mr Geslani said. "Labour laws should be enacted in the UAE and Qatar if they would still like to get Filipina maids."

rruiz@thenational.ae