x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Scams that face maids even before they start work

Domestic workers from overseas face a long and often precarious road to a job in the UAE. The situation is not always smooth - or legal - when they arrive here to begin work.

They are scammed from the start.

Long before domestic workers arrive in the UAE from their homelands in eastern Asia, the conditions are set for them to be to cheated.

A support group in the Philippines points the finger at unscrupulous agents in the workers' own countries.

"Prior to departure, recruiters in the Philippines still collect placement fees from household workers with no receipt or proof of payment," said Ellene Sana, the executive director of the Centre for Migrant Advocacy in Quezon City.

"Domestic workers are required to undergo training with the recruiter and the latter charges fees."

That's just the tip of the iceberg.

Insurance fees

She said recruiters illegally charged Overseas Workers Welfare Administration fees and the premium for mandatory insurance, and added: "They do so through deception and making false promises."

Under the Filipino Migrant Workers Act, amended in November, recruitment agencies must provide workers with an insurance policy covering health and other areas costing US$72 (Dh264), or $144 for a two-year contract.

Placement fees

Recruitment agencies in the Philippines are allowed to charge a placement fee equal to one month's pay for a domestic worker, according to Nasser Munder, the labour attaché at the Philippine overseas labour office in Abu Dhabi. But some women are being tricked into handing over much larger sums of cash.

"The problem mainly lies with middlemen in the Philippines who supply workers to recruitment agencies," he said. "They charge up to three months' salary as recruitment fees."

Some maids from far-flung areas in the southern Philippines have been duped by illegal recruiters who have contacts at recruitment agencies.

"They are able to convince the worker to sign a document that states that they have to repay a loan for the recruitment costs," Mr Munder said.

"But when we ask them to identify the agency, they only have the name of the middleman or recruiter."

Bypassing the system

It is legal for an agency to charge a worker for finding an employer. This amount is usually deducted from the worker's salary. In effect, she does not get paid for her first month of work.

The Philippine recruitment agency's counterpart in the UAE collects the money from the employer and remits the amount to the Philippines.

"Instead of asking domestic workers to pay the fee upfront, the agency in the Philippines resorts to this kind of arrangement," Mr Munder said. "This is to ensure that the workers are not burdened by recruitment costs and are able to leave the country."

Some recruitment agencies in the Philippines do not charge any fees.

"These agencies intend to hire several applicants to fulfil the requirements of the foreign counterparts," Mr Munder said.

However, some unscrupulous Philippine agencies bypass the official system by hiring household workers using visit or tourist visas.

"This is tantamount to illegal recruitment," Mr Munder said. "They avoid paying insurance and other recruitment-related fees in the Philippines."

Unrecognised brokers

In Indonesia, recruitment agencies usually charge an employer Dh7,000 to Dh9,000. The charges cover a worker's passport, a one-way air ticket, attestation fees, courier fees and broker fees.

About half of the recruitment fee will go to the Indonesian broker.

But the Indonesian government does not recognise brokers in the recruitment process, said Hannan Hadi, the head of the consular section at the Indonesian embassy.

Weak regulation

And in the end there is little point in complaining.

If a worker files a complaint against a recruitment agency upon her return to the Philippines, it is not uncommon for the agency to ignore it," Ms Sana said. "They will try to escape from the responsibilities, disappear, and will delay the court and settlement proceedings. The recruiters will lie and threaten the worker to withdraw her complaint."

rruiz@thenational.ae