Dubai, UAE–Thirty-three-year old Filipina Sheila Endong heard stories of happy lives in the UAE and was lured by a friend to come here to work as a domestic worker. She arrived in the country in November last year but it was not the promised life that greeted her.
Sheila was a victim of human trafficking. Her case has been told many times over. Her ordeal started from her country of origin and when she was offered a free airline ticket and paid-for tourist visa.
Sheila said she left Zamboanga Sibugay in Southern Philippines to find a job and provide a good life for her 10-year-old son. Her friend told her that a job was waiting for her in the UAE and her travel papers were immediately processed. She did not pay anything except for her medical test.
She said she breezed through the immigration check-in from Manila because she was ‘escorted’ by a Philippine immigration staff. A kabayan (compatriot) picked her up at the Dubai International Airport and she was immediately brought to an accommodation in Ajman.
She was not allowed to leave the flat and she learned she was offered to prospective employers at a cost of Dh17,000. Employers had to bite the bullet because of the dearth in the supply of available household service workers.
With no regulation and proper monitoring in place, Sheila had at least three different employers in the past 10 months. At one point, she suffered physical abuse from her employer which prompted her to run away.
Philippine labour officials in the UAE said Sheila’s case is just one of the many cases they’ve handled because of the lack of transparency in recruitment and because many Filipinos come to the UAE using a tourist visa to find work.
This will soon come to an end, according to Philippine Labour Secretary Silvestre Bello, who recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Labour Cooperation with UAE Minister of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MoHRE) Saqr bin Ghobash Saeed Ghobash.
“The MoU enhances existing friendly relations between the UAE and the Philippines, through labour cooperation to promote mutual benefits and provide adequate protection to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs),” he said.
The MoU is a result of many consultations, which began when the UAE Cabinet tasked the ministry to oversee the domestic workers sector in the country, he added.
Human trafficking will be curbed because, under the MoU, the recruitment office is tasked with sending the job offer to the employee in their home country and listing the obligations of the labour contract. The contract will be signed by the employer and employee upon the arrival of the latter to the UAE Only recruitment agencies registered with the MoHRE are able to offer recruitment and employment applications for domestic workers that have been submitted by employers.
Awareness and guidance programmes will also be organised for the employer, and the employee before exiting the Philippines. Moreover, the programmes will inform contractual parties about their rights and obligations towards each other.
Bello also noted that the MoU on Labour Cooperation includes an annex called Protocol on Domestic Workers. He said the Protocol highlights recruitment and admission of Filipino domestic workers to the UAE in accordance with the protective Philippine and UAE laws.
The Philippine Labour Secretary said: “Among the rights to be guaranteed under the Protocol, through a standard employment contract under the newly-approved UAE Law on Domestic Workers, are the following: a) Treatment of the worker that preserves personal dignity and physical safety; b) Due payment and non-withholding of wages; c) Twelve hours of daily rest; d) One full day of weekly rest; e) Decent accommodation; f) Medical treatment; g) Retention of identity documents, such as passports; h) Non-payment of costs and fees on recruitment and deployment; and i) Non-payment of costs for repatriation.
At a recent town hall meeting with Filipino community leaders in Abu Dhabi, Bello praised the MoU as a big step for the protection of OFWs. Sheila, who was in the audience, is optimistic that her rights are now protected. # (Angel L. Tesorero / Khaleej Times)
This story was first published here.