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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 19 August 2018

Philippine officials warn of illegal domestic hiring

Philippine officials believe many Filipinas recruited as company cleaners are being put to work for expatriate families as housemaids.
Ophelia Almenario, the Philippine labour attache in Abu Dhabi, says she suspects that many Filipinas brought to the UAE as cleaners end up being “reprocessed” to work as domestic servants. Christopher Pike / The National
Ophelia Almenario, the Philippine labour attache in Abu Dhabi, says she suspects that many Filipinas brought to the UAE as cleaners end up being “reprocessed” to work as domestic servants. Christopher Pike / The National

ABU DHABI // Filipinas in the UAE who have come to work as domestic staff are likely to have been hired using reprocessed job orders, a labour official has warned.

“Reprocessing” occurs when recruiters use a particular job or manpower request to hire a cleaner, for example, but then give the person hired a different job, such as a housemaid, when she arrives in the country.

“That’s why we’re very strict when it comes to small companies wanting to get workers as cleaners,” said Ophelia Almenario, the new labour attache at the Philippine overseas labour office in Abu Dhabi.

“Although I have no proof yet, these cleaners are more prone to be reprocessed. As a matter of fact, a staff member at one cleaning company admitted that they hired cleaners [and] upon their arrival, the company farms them out to expats.

“I told her that [although] they may be under the company’s sponsorship, they are really housemaids because they live and work inside the expats’ homes. If they live in company accommodation, work in a client’s home for a certain number of hours and are paid per hour, then they’re considered cleaners.”

Some companies list a salary of Dh1,200 or Dh1,500 on the offer letter and the job order, but a check with the Ministry of Labour contract often shows that they are paid only Dh700 to Dh800, Ms Almenario said.

“Right now, we do not process job orders for skilled workers whose salaries are below Dh1,500,” she said.

“If the salary is Dh1,300 but there’s free food and accommodation, we could process them, but we still need to do some background checks to see if the company could afford to pay its workers.”

The illegal practice of reprocessing tends to be more widespread following a temporary halt in the deployment of household workers to the UAE.

The Philippine overseas labour office stopped verifying contracts in the first week of June after a new standard contract for domestic staff produced by the Ministry of Interior took effect on June 1.

“There is no ban on the deployment of household workers to the UAE and we want to make this clear,” Ms Almenario said. “The UAE is a sovereign country and authorities here have every right to tell foreign recruitment agencies not to come here to have the housemaid contracts verified.”

The Ministry of Labour issued a circular on May 26 instructing recruitment agencies in the UAE to rely on the standard contract, removing the need to have domestic workers’ contracts ratified by embassies of their countries of origin, a source had said in June.

The agencies were also instructed not to require or compel employers who wished to hire household workers to deal with embassies when signing contracts, the source said.

“The Philippines is also a sovereign country and we have laws regulating the deployment of our household workers overseas to protect our nationals,” Ms Almenario said.

“The law says that their contracts need to be verified.”

The Philippine missions in Abu Dhabi and Dubai are responsible for verifying documents, including employment contracts, to satisfy Philippine requirements.

Verification has been in place under Philippine laws on overseas employment, and it is applied for all countries of destination, including the UAE, Rosalinda Baldoz, the Philippines’ labour secretary, said in June.

“I am concerned that without the requisite verification, household workers who will travel to the UAE will fall vulnerable to human trafficking, which we must avoid at all cost,” she said.

The focus now is on sending skilled workers and professionals to the UAE. These include nurses, engineers, clerks, service and salon workers.

More than 70 housemaids are fed and counselled at the labour-office shelter in Abu Dhabi, which is managed by Filipino labour and welfare officials. The women fled their employers’ homes after complaining of lack of food and sleep, and being overworked and unpaid for months.

“Secretary Baldoz’s marching orders to me are to make the shelter a centre of excellence,” Ms Almenario said.

“They will undergo livelihood training, financial literacy and personal development as part of our national reintegration programme. We would like to achieve the national development goal of making migration a matter of choice and not a necessity.”

rruiz@thenational.ae

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