ABU DHABI // The Philippines’ new labour attache in Abu Dhabi hopes to reduce the number of his countrywomen coming to the UAE to work as housemaids by 2016, and focus more on sending skilled workers and professionals.
“There has been a tendency to focus heavily on the plight of household service workers as they are the most vulnerable sector,” said Angel Borja Jr, who took up the position this month.
"We would now like to promote our higher-skilled workers in the oil and gas, information technology and industrial sectors."
One of the new nuclear power plants in Al Gharbia, for example, will employ 15,000.
“I’ve already processed close to 1,000 contracts but I need to visit the worksite,” he said. “This is an area that falls under our jobs promotion role.”
At a labour-mobility conference in Abu Dhabi, Rosalinda Baldoz, the Philippines labour secretary, said her country was focusing on the higher end of the job market.
In August last year, she set 2016 as a target of a five-year programme against abusive employers of domestic workers.
“Her standing instructions to labour attaches in countries with a high deployment rate of household service workers (HSWs) is to try to reduce it,” Mr Borja said.
“Her vision is by 2016 we would no longer count HSWs among the biggest category of workers going out of our country. The rate of the HSW has outpaced any other skilled category. We should do something drastic to prevent this huge outflow.
“Of course, we cannot prevent them from leaving the country,” he said. “It would be a constitutional violation of their right to travel.”
Maids, nannies, family drivers, cooks and gardeners are roles in the category of household service workers. Most are women.
“If not for the HSWs, we would be better at serving other overseas Filipino workers here in a more positive way by doing more developmental activities,” Mr Borja said
“We are weighed down with the problems of our HSWs. They work under the same roof, share the same toilet and kitchen as their employers and get harassed and suffer the indignities of a domestic worker.”
Delmer Cruz, the labour attache in Dubai, said there were efforts to reduce the number of domestic workers sent to Dubai and the Northern Emirates. His office has found alternative sources of employment for women in the hospitality and wellness sector.
“We should veer from unskilled and vulnerable job categories,” he said. “The economy in Dubai is picking up and these women can work in hotels and spas where they enjoy basic pay and tips, and their own accommodation instead of a household setting.”
Contract substitution victimises the majority of household workers. This happens when a second, inferior, labour contract to the signed original is presented to a worker, either before leaving her home country or after arriving in the UAE.
In December 2006, a reform package from the Philippine overseas employment administration required that household staff be paid a minimum monthly wage of US$400 (Dh1,469), be at least 23 years old and not be required to pay placement fees.
“The $400 minimum wage is a very contentious issue in Abu Dhabi,” Mr Borja said. “What we are trying to enforce here is a guiding rate.
“The $200 salary rate has been in effect in the last 20 to 30 years and has already overtaken events in the Philippines: the high inflation rate, the dramatic improvement in the exchange rate of the US dollar and the Philippine peso and the prevailing minimum wage in the country.”
To circumvent the minimum wage, employers resort to “paper compliance”, agreeing to the terms in a contract, but paying the worker a reduced wage.
“But it usually involves a tacit agreement between the agency and the worker,” Mr Borja said. “Out of desperation, she accepts the job.”
Domestic workers, however, should not be treated as a liability by the Philippine government despite the huge amounts of money spent to send them home, he said.
“Their situation here is wretched,” he said. “But I’m happy to report that from a high of 200 in February, we now have 55 workers under our care.”
The women are being fed and counselled by labour and welfare officials at the Filipino workers resource centre at the embassy in Abu Dhabi. All had left their jobs after complaining of a lack of food and sleep, overwork, non-payment and other mistreatment.
There are 680,000 Filipinos in the UAE. Of those, 10 per cent are household workers.