Minimum wage for Filipino maids in Saudi a model for Gulf countries

Take our poll: Recruiters, welcoming new rules of employment agreed between the Philippines and Saudi Arabia, say agreement could be a model for other countries employing domestic workers.

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ABU DHABI // A warm welcome has been given to the Philippine government’s decision to make the new standard employment contract for Filipino domestic workers in Saudi Arabia a model for other countries.

The kingdom lifted a ban on Filipina housemaids on October 1 and agreed to the Philippines’ demand of a US$400 (Dh1,469) minimum monthly wage, plus more protection for domestic workers.

The ban had been in place since July last year following a disagreement over wages. The Philippines wanted $400 but Saudi found that too high, saying the average should be half that amount.

The Philippines government requires domestic staff working abroad to be at least 23 year old, receive a monthly minimum wage and not pay any placement fee, according to reforms introduced in December 2006.

The UAE and the Philippines have not yet signed a standard employment contract with a $400 minimum wage for domestic workers, said Nasser Munder, the labour attache in Abu Dhabi.

Although an employer signs a maid’s contract promising her $400 a month – the minimum required by Philippine law – when she arrives in the UAE she is again asked to sign another for less.

The licence of the agency in the maid’s home country may be suspended or cancelled, while its counterpart agency in the UAE may be subject to blacklisting. Neither are liable for contractual breaches under UAE law.

However, the Philippine overseas labour office in Abu Dhabi issued a memo last week to recruitment agencies about the Philippine’s policy of a minimum wage.

Filipino labour officials have warned that they would temporarily suspend the processing of applications for new domestic workers if it is not abided by.

They will also not cooperate with the labour office in case of disputes.

Jejomar Binay, the Philippines’ vice president, said the standard employment contract “in all its features taken as one package” would be a model for employee-employer relationships in other countries that hire household service workers (HSWs).

Mr Binay, who also serves as the presidential adviser for overseas Filipino workers’ affairs, said it would “ensure abuse and exploitation of our HSWs are stopped”.

“It’s not a cure-all solution,” said Lito Soriano, the chief executive of LBS Recruitment Solutions in Manila. “There are features in the contract that should be a benchmark of other countries receiving Filipino domestic workers. One of them is the salary deposited in the worker’s bank account.”

The $400 minimum wage should be paid into a worker's account, according to the standard contract for HSWs in Saudi Arabia.
Mr Soriano, a member of the technical working group that drafted the contract, said an employer was required to submit a bank statement showing salary payments at the end of the contract. "It will be the basis of resolving conflict on salary and the renewal of her contract," he said.

“It’s a good idea so there’s transparency,” said Edgelin Diaz, who works at a recruitment agency in Abu Dhabi. “It ensures their salaries are paid on time.”

Maids, nannies, gardeners, private tutors and family drivers are among the jobs that fall under the category of HSWs. Most of them are women.

But Ms Diaz said most employers in Abu Dhabi usually offer a salary of Dh800 to a “first-timer” with no experience in domestic work.

The standard contract requires employers to give a worker at least eight hours off very day, one day off a week and 30 days holiday every two years of service, with a free economy-class air ticket.

It also gives a worker the right to keep her passport and requires an employer to allow her to freely communicate with family and the Philippine Embassy or consulate at her expense.