With the number of repatriated runaway household service workers (HSWs) continuing to rise at unprecedented levels, leaders of the Philippine diplomatic mission in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) expressed gratitude to His Highness, President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan for signing a statute upholding the rights and welfare of HSWs and in effect protecting them from human traffickers.
Close to 1,600 Filipinos, mostly runaway house helps victimized by fly-by-night recruitment agencies back home, have been flown home by the Philippine Embassy and Consulate General from January this year.
“We are very happy. We have been waiting for that (law) which was a result of continuing discussions between the UAE and Philippine governments,” Ambassador Constancio R. Vingno, Jr. told The Filipino Times in a phone interview from the Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi.
‘Idadaan na sa proseso ang pagpunta dito sa UAE ng mga kasambahay, at kung magka-problema ay may hahabulin dito at sa Pilipinas. May mapupuntahan nang opisina para magreklamo…may mananagot na. Dati wala
“Idadaan na sa proseso ang pagpunta dito sa UAE ng mga kasambahay at kung magka-problema ay may hahabulin dito at sa Pilipinas. May mapupuntahan nang opisina para magreklamo…may mananagot na. Dati wala (Recruitment of HSWs will now have to go through a process and should a problem arise in the conduct of employment, there will be someone to get back to in the Philippines and an office here in the UAE from which to lodge a complaint),” Vingno added.
For his part, Consul General Paul Raymund Cortes said he welcomes the new law as it provides more protection for workers, Filipinos in particular, and improves access to their wellbeing.
“By doing so, we are assured that our workers who come to the UAE will lead happier and more productive lives for themselves, their families back in the Philippines, and for the greater and more diverse UAE community here. All these toward a more sustainable and visionary UAE,” Cortes likewise told TFT.
Labor Attaché Felicitas Bay of Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Dubai said hopes that the new law for HSWs will be a deterrent to all manifestations of forced labor and human trafficking.
“With the approval of the UAE law on domestic workers, I believe that our nationals in this category or sector will have stronger protection backed by a firm assurance from the UAE government,” Bay said.
Runaways and repatriations
The signing of the law came at a time when the embassy and consulate general’s office have been repatriating runaway HSWs in batches of around 50.
Apparent victims of human traffickers, the runaways arrived in the UAE with visit visas and ended up employed as house helps despite having been promised back home by human traffickers who paid for their travel and documents of work as teachers and related job categories.
Vice Consul Anna Guerra, head the embassy’s Assistance to Nationals (ATN) section said they have flown 545 runaways home since the office started “mass repatriation” in May this year. The total figure is higher because not included are the “regular repatriations” of one or two. The mass repatriation is being done in batches of around 50, according to Guerra.
As of writing, the embassy was repatriating a batch of 51 runaway HSWs, Guerra said.
Cortes said his office has repatriated over 1,000 Filipinos mostly runaways since January.
Officials said the figures were unprecedented. The highest number of repatriation in recent years was in the few hundreds.
As of October 1, POLO Dubai has a total of 119 wards. About 115 of them either came on visit visa, were illegally recruited or over stayers, according to Labor Attaché Fely Bay.
Meanwhile, Filipino recruiters based in UAE refused said they have not yet been given copies of the new law in English, but welcome the new law nonetheless.
“Sa tingin naming ay maganda ang maidudulot ng batas dahil magbibigay ito ng sapat na protection sa ating OFWs particularly sa ating mga HSWs,” said Beth Fabic, president of Cooperation Among Filipino Foreign Recruitment Agencies (CAFFRA).
The new law states that placement agencies should ensure domestic workers are informed of the terms and conditions of their employment such as the nature of work, workplace, remuneration and the period of daily and weekly rest set by the executive regulations before they start working.
Benefits, including payment of wages, as set out in the standard contract, within ten days from the day they are due; one day of paid rest per week; 12 hours of rest per day, including eight hours of consecutive rest; medical insurance provided by the employer; 30 days medical leave per year; a round-trip ticket home every two years; decent accommodation; decent meals at the employer’s expense; clothing, if required by the employer, at the employer’s expense; and possession of their personal identification papers such as passports and IDs, have been specified in the new law.
The law will take effect 60 days after its publication in the UAE official gazette.