x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

UAE and Philippines edge nearer on amended labour agreement

Both countries are looking forward to a successful conclusion to address recruitment and deployment issues.

ABU DHABI // An amended labour agreement between the UAE and the Philippines to help prevent cases of unlawful and forced contract substitution is nearing completion.

The technical working groups from both countries had an open discussion yesterday to refine the provisions of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that lapsed in April last year.

"Nothing has been finalised yet," said Rosalinda Baldoz, the Philippines' labour secretary who is visiting the UAE.

"Both countries are looking forward to a successful conclusion to address issues on the recruitment and deployment of all types of workers, except for domestic workers."

The old MOU was signed in Manila on April 9, 2007, by the then UAE Labour Minister Dr Ali Al Kaabi and Arturo Brion, who was the Philippine labour secretary.

One of the 14 provisions of the old MOU stated that labour contracts signed by the worker and employer would not deviate from the contract signed by the same worker and employer submitted to the UAE Ministry of Labour and the Philippine government for verification purposes.

The technical teams from both countries exchanged draft MoUs and discussed ways to agree on mutually-acceptable recruitment and deployment policies.

"There were no contentious issues between us," Ms Baldoz said. "We welcome the proposals from the UAE side, which would help minimise the contract-substitution problem."

Unethical recruitment practices occur when a worker is forced to sign a contract that is inferior to the one they signed at home.

"So far, we have not set a time frame for this MOU but from the Philippine side, I am ready to sign it by next month or July," Ms Baldoz said.

The labour secretary said she was also looking forward to an electronic contract registration and validation system, which was discussed in the Abu Dhabi Dialogue 2 last year.

The MOU will not cover domestic workers such as maids, nannies, gardeners, cooks and family drivers, because the sector falls under the purview of the Ministry of Interior and not under the Labour Ministry.

"We hope to have a separate, bilateral agreement in the future," Ms Baldoz said.

Earlier this week, in her address at the Labour Mobility conference in Abu Dhabi, she said the Philippines had concluded a jointly-agreed standard employment contract and a bilateral agreement with Saudi Arabia on domestic-worker recruitment.

Ms Baldoz and other Filipino labour officials will be in Jeddah this weekend for the signing of the document, and she said she hoped it could "pave the way for a similar initiative among GCC member states".

The Philippines ratified the ILO Convention 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers last year. It seeks to provide equal protection to domestic workers, assuring decent pay, work conditions and other benefits.

Saeed Mohammed Al Shamsi, assistant UAE Foreign Affairs Minister for international organisation affairs, said on Wednesday he hoped the next labour conference would tackle the issue of runaway household workers and unethical recruitment practices.

"Once they come and discover that they are not qualified for the job and you inform them and take them back to the agency, they start to plan on running away," he said.

"Unfortunately, some of the embassies here contribute negatively by encouraging them to run away. I hope this will be one of the issues that will be discussed."

The GCC is contemplating the adoption of a unified contract for domestic workers, allowing for a more comprehensive, region-wide regime of protection, according to Dr Zahra Babar, the assistant director of research at the Centre for International and Regional Studies at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar.

Earlier this year the GCC's ministries of labour announced a draft law, but it has yet to be finalised. The labour ministers had recommended that domestic workers in a GCC state who committed violations or ran away from an employer should not be allowed to enter another GCC country, William Gois, regional director of Migrant Forum in Asia told Muscat Today in April.

Under the law, domestic workers will be entitled to a weekly day off and the right to keep their passports. It also sets out strict rules on housemaids who are not allowed to work for any other person for money, and a three-month probationary period wherein the worker or the employer can cancel the contract for specific reasons.