Call for tighter control in UAE's Filipino labour shelters

Filipino congressman welcomes stricter measures to deter sexual predators in government agencies.

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A Filipino congressman said he does not have evidence of any sexual exploitation of women inside the labour-office shelters in the UAE but welcomes stricter measures to deter sexual predators.

"While there are no reports on sex-for-fly in the UAE, it doesn't mean it does not exist," said Walden Bello, a representative of the Akbayan party list at the Philippine congress.

The "sex-for-fly" scheme refers to female workers who are offered immediate repatriation in exchange for sex.

Mr Bello, who is also the chairman of the congress's committee on overseas workers affairs, exposed instances when runaway workers were being exploited by embassy and overseas labour officials in some Middle East countries. Some of the workers had claimed that they had to turn to prostitution to finance their plane tickets home.

Angel Borja Jr, the labour attache in Abu Dhabi, said last week there were no sexual abuse allegations that implicated Filipino labour and welfare officials in the UAE.

The Philippines' labour department, which investigated the allegations, has not shared its reports with congress, Mr Bello said.

Rosalinda Baldoz, the labour secretary, responded with stricter measures. These included setting up closed-circuit television cameras, fast-tracking the repatriation of workers in shelters, prioritising the resolution of their complaints and cases, and seminars and skills training in preparation for their reintegration back into their communities.

"It's good that the scandal has prompted the secretary to pay attention to the reintegration programme," Mr Bello said. "They are good positive steps. However, these reforms should not be a substitute for ensuring that administrative and criminal charges are lodged as soon as possible against the officials."

If the labour department does not endorse criminal penalties or undertake substantive administrative action, Mr Bello said he would be forced to file a resolution cutting the department of labour and employment's proposed 10.5 billion peso (Dh840million) budget for 2014, a 29 per cent increase in its budget compared with this year.

There is a need to re-examine the foreign affairs and labour departments as "they tend to function independently from each other", he said.

"When I asked a number of ambassadors here in Manila two months ago, they said they were not aware of the scandal," he said. "It's unacceptable. The two departments should have a one-country-team approach, with the ambassador as the head of the post."

The creation of a new department of overseas welfare affairs is "the way to go", Mr Bello said.

"There would be an integrated handling of workers' affairs so Filipinos don't fall through the cracks due to a lack of co-operation by the two departments," he said.

"The department will have its own independent presence in other countries."