Filipina maid describes mistreatment after being hired by unscrupulous agency

The woman was pushed into a contract with a family that also treated her badly, a scenario the government seeks to end

Sisters Norkhaisa, Alanisa and Aliah. Alanisa, 36, organised a job for Aliah, 42, through a maid agency, but when her older sibling arrived in Abu Dhabi she was mistreated by both the company and the family it placed her with. Victor Besa / The National
Sisters Norkhaisa, Alanisa and Aliah. Alanisa, 36, organised a job for Aliah, 42, through a maid agency, but when her older sibling arrived in Abu Dhabi she was mistreated by both the company and the family it placed her with. Victor Besa / The National

Related: Some maid-hiring agencies allowed to stay open under strict rules

A domestic worker has told of mistreatment at the hands of her recruiter as unscrupulous employment agencies face being banned under government plans.

Aliah Macabago, 42, from the Philippines, was offered work by a recruiter who claimed to offer help to women seeking work as maids in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

But the agency mistreated her and placed her with a family that made her work 19-hour days.

Ms Macabago’s sister, Alanisa Samporna, found the agency’s advert on Facebook. She had been working for six years as a waitress in Abu Dhabi, and wanted to find a job for her sister.

We will start a new page based on regulations and standards that respect human rights

Nasser Al Hamli, speaking last month

Alanisa, 36, thought the agency offered a solution, but instead, she said, “the worst happened”.

“I was squashed with 20 women in one room, and only allowed to eat one small meal a day,” she said.

“They did not allow us to use the phone, and there were many bugs in the bed where we had to sleep.

“We had to clean the room all day as a sort of training.”

Cases such as this have propelled the government to ban many agencies from next month.

Only approved companies, working with the government-run labour centre Tadbeer, will be allowed to hire domestic workers and bring them into the country.

“We will start a new page based on regulations and standards that respect human rights,” Nasser Al Hamli, the Minister of Human Resources and Emiratisation, said last month.

He said 250 private recruitment agencies had been shut and “the remaining 10 offices will be closed in March”.

The ministry has not renewed the licences of private companies since 2017 and fined 99 agencies that continued to operate after their licences were suspended.

Hard labour

After two weeks, Ms Macabago was hired by a family, whom she served for three months.

“I woke up at 5am every day and slept after midnight. I had to clean the entire house, take care of her three kids – including a baby – prepare the food, and do laundry.”

She was also denied of her right to a day off, so eventually she refused to continue working for them.

When she was taken back to the agency, her situation deteriorated further, as they told her she had to pay Dh8,000 to be released from her contract.

Additionally, the agency had not amended the tourist visa that she had used to enter the country.

“She was overstaying her visa, and accumulated fines for each day. We needed to pay about Dh12,000 to immigration to fix her status,” Ms Samporna said.

Desperate for a way to rescue Ms Macabago and pay off the agency, she started asking employees at her office if they knew anyone looking for a domestic worker.

Luckily, they found someone.

“One of the women said she was looking for a nanny, and that she would help me pay the fees to release my sister,” she said.

Ms Macabago worked as a nanny for a year with that family, and then secured her current job as a caregiver in the health sector.

“I am happy now. The salary is good, but there are still bad things, bad rules, but at least I am OK now living with my sisters, not in someone else’s house,” she said.

Changes coming

Official government Tadbeer recruitment offices first opened in 2018 and there are 54 nationwide. Prospective employers can visit the service centres if they want to hire domestic staff, including nannies, maids, security guards and drivers.

The Tadbeer agents organise visas, training, medical checks and health insurance of the prospective employees. The recruitment offices are also required to provide specialised support centres to ensure the balance of the relationship between both parties.

It is hoped this transparency will protect the welfare of household workers. It will ensure their salaries are paid, accommodation is adequate and holidays are respected.

As per the Domestic Labour Law, domestic workers are entitled to one day of paid rest per week, two hours of rest per day, including eight hours' consecutive rest, and 30 days of paid leave per year.

Only companies that meet strict criteria are allowed to become Tadbeer franchises.

Officials had said private maid hiring agencies in free zones would not be affected by last month's decision.

Updated: February 14, 2021 05:48 PM

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