x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Nightmare ends for Filipino drivers

The ordeal appears to be over for 137 bus drivers who were offered non-existent jobs in the UAE and had to resort to sifting through rubbish for food.

The ordeal appears to be over for 137 Filipino bus drivers who were offered non-existent jobs in the UAE and had to resort to sifting through rubbish for food. The men were left to fend for themselves in an Ajman labour camp after being hired by a Manila recruitment agency that had promised them earnings of Dh5,200 (US$1,400) a month, but had also allegedly exacted an illegal "placement fee" of 150,000 Philippine pesos (Dh11,540) from each worker.

Elmer Joven, the welfare officer at the Philippine Overseas Labour Office in Dubai, said: "Those who decided to go home were allowed to leave the country last week." In total, 25 men had left for Manila on flights last Tuesday and Thursday, he said. Of the remainder, 59 already have alternative employment in the UAE. Emirates Flight Catering had offered jobs to 42 drivers. Eight are currently working at Quality Mix, a concrete mix supplier, and another nine have offers from the company.

A company in Abu Dhabi had also offered jobs to 12 drivers but the men had yet to decide whether to accept them, Mr Joven said. In April, the Philippine government helped repatriate 61 of the drivers, but at least 20 of those have returned to Dubai after signing job offers with Emirates Flight Catering. The victims arrived in batches between January 27 and March 6, only to discover that their jobs were non-existent and the documents supplied to them forged. Stranded, in debt and with no means of support, they also found they faced mounting immigration fines, which by June 15 totalled Dh381,400.

The men said they had been recruited by CYM International Services, a Manila agency, in concert with 11 licensed agencies. Operations at CYM and 11 other recruitment firms have since been suspended after the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration in Manila filed charges alleging violation of labour deployment laws and regulations. Mr Joven did not say how the immigration fines had been settled, but confirmed that the problem had been resolved.

Domingo Zubieto, 40, who is among those given jobs at Emirates Flight Catering, said: "I have been staying here in Ajman without any source of income for more than four months. Twenty are already working in the company and they are now in a much better staff accommodation in Dubai." "Our government did not let them down," said Mr Joven, who paid regular visits to the labour camp in Ajman. "We did everything we could to alleviate their situation."

Some of the drivers admitted to scavenging from a dumpsite near the labour camp for food and anything they could sell. They said they scavenged mostly for tomatoes that they could cook for their meals. rruiz@thenational.ae