'Every day, madam asked me to clean cars at 4am'

Housemaids tell of the ill-treatment that drove them to flee to the shelter of the Philippines Overseas Labour Office.

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ABU DHABI // Lured by the promise of a tax-free monthly wage of US$400 (Dh1,500), Loreta Laureta, 37, left Isabela province, 325km north of Manila, in September 2008 to work as a housemaid in Abu Dhabi. But when she arrived, she was offered only Dh700 - and she worked unpaid for more than a year. In October, she received Dh5,000 in back wages.

"They had four children, a three-storey villa and five cars," she said. "Every day, madam would scold and ask me to clean their cars at 4am. I could handle the workload inside their home but I wasn't being paid for my services." She fled to the women's shelter at the Philippines Overseas Labour Office in the capital. Last week, her passport was returned by her sponsor, clearing the way for her return to the Philippines.

"I came here to provide a better life for my parents and siblings," Ms Laureta said. "But I will be going home without having achieved anything." Her story would sound familiar to many of the 240 women staying inside the shelter managed by Filipino labour and welfare officials. Janeta Laudesa, 28, left her eight-year-old daughter, Isabel Karen, to the care of her elder sister when she came to work as a saleswoman in Dubai last September.

But when she arrived at Dubai airport, she was handed a servant's visa issued in Abu Dhabi. She left the home of her Emirati employer after working for 15 days. Her agency got her a job with another Emirati sponsor, but she left after a week. She tried her luck with another sponsor, an Indian woman with a newborn baby, who hired her as a nanny. "My sponsors were very strict and always shouted at me," Ms Laudesa said. "I couldn't take the verbal abuse. My Indian sponsor warned me that if anything happened to her baby, she would report me to the police."

She fled to the shelter in Abu Dhabi last month, complaining of a lack of sleep and two months' unpaid salary. She was promised a Dh1,469 monthly salary but was paid only Dh750. Ms Laudesa worked as a housemaid in Saudi Arabia for three years before returning to the Philippines in 2006.

But she was forced to pack her bags and leave the Philippines again after her husband left her for another woman. "It was a very painful decision to leave my daughter behind," she said. "But I had to show my husband that I could raise my child on my own. So I left for the UAE." She and Ms Laureta are among the hundreds of women in the Middle East who are being flown home today by her government as part of its mass repatriation programme.

"I'd like to work overseas if there are no job opportunities back home," she said. "For now, I would like to spend some time with my daughter and look for a job while in Manila." @Email:rruiz@thenational.ae