x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Visit to assess Filipino workers

Following a report on Philippine expatriates in Saudi Arabia, a politician hopes to carry out a fact-finding trip to evaluate the situation in the UAE

Walden Bello, the chairman of the Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs, plans to gather data on conditions for Filipinos in the UAE. Mike Alquinto / EPA
Walden Bello, the chairman of the Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs, plans to gather data on conditions for Filipinos in the UAE. Mike Alquinto / EPA

ABU DHABI // A member of the Philippine Congress hopes to visit the UAE this year to appraise the working conditions of 600,000 Filipino expatriate workers.

Walden Bello, a representative of the Akbayan party list at the congress and chairman of the Congress's Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs, said he had an open invitation from Grace Princesa, the Philippine ambassador to the UAE, who is currently in Manila.

"I can come there some time in May or June," he said. "I've had a long association with Ambassador Princesa, who I know is sympathetic to the plight of migrant workers there."

After visiting Saudi Arabia last month, Mr Bello and three other legislators last week released a report titled The Dark Kingdom? The conditions of Overseas Filipino Workers in Saudi Arabia to the Philippine Congress. The report includes 12 recommendations as to how the Philippine government can improve the situation for workers in Saudi Arabia.

The group, which visited Riyadh, Jeddah and Al Khobar, recommended a temporary freeze on sending workers to Saudi Arabia until better legal and social safeguards could be introduced. They also urged that the Philippine and Saudi governments negotiate a bilateral labour agreement governing Filipino overseas workers. Laws require Philippine embassies to determine if migrants' rights are protected in countries under their jurisdiction. Manila's foreign affairs department then issues a certification that the host country is qualified to receive overseas Filipino workers, who are overseen by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration.

While in Saudi the group heard stories from domestic workers who described beatings, being overworked and underfed. Many had not been paid their wages, while others said they had arrived to find contracts that were dramatically different from those they had signed in their home country - a practice known as "contract substitution".

Mr Bello said of the conditions for Filipino workers in the UAE that he "would hesitate to render any judgment until after having visited the Emirates and gathering empirical data".

"I expect the same full co-operation with the embassy officials there," he said.

On January 15, Saqr Ghobash Saeed Ghobash, the Minister of Labour, announced new rules that include the Emiratisation of recruitment agencies and require agencies to ensure that workers fully understand their contracts before signing, take a harder line on contract substitution and require agencies to return any recruitment fees paid by a worker.

The Ministry of Labour hosted a two-day workshop that was attended by representatives from six Asian labour-sending countries, including the Philippines, as well as the International Labour Organisation and International Organisation for Migration.

The representatives from these countries had agreed to work towards the implementation of a single employment contract for all workers who enter the UAE and other GCC countries.

According to ministry officials, the aim was "to develop standard contracts that can be transferred electronically from Countries of Origin to Countries of Destination to enable workers to receive expected wages and working conditions".