DUBAI // Women coming to work as housemaids are being swindled by recruitment agents who promise the minimum salary set by their home governments, then arrange for them to be paid little more than half that figure.
The Philippine government has set a minimum salary of US$400 (Dh1,470) a month for nationals who work as domestic helpers abroad. But in many cases the actual salary paid in the UAE is Dh850 or less, says a group that assists Filipina maids in distress.
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Many of the women are victims of contract substitution. They sign an agreement in the Philippines that promises one salary but when they arrive in the UAE they are asked to sign another for less.
They are instructed to sign the second contract by UAE agents who are colluding with agents in the maids' home countries.
"The $400 minimum is a law. It's a condition set by the Philippine government," said Yuri Cipriano, the chairman of the advocacy group Migrante International UAE. "But we are receiving complaints from Filipina maids that their salaries are not in line with the law.
"In the contract signed in the Philippines they are provided with a higher salary, but when they come here it's a lower salary."
Amor Echague, the head of the group's paralegal team, said: "The maid cannot do anything about this because, even if the salary is lower, she is here."
"She cannot go back to the Philippines because she has signed the contract. And sometimes they are forced to sign a contract written in Arabic that they don't understand."
The Migrante vice-chairwoman Shayne Rosqueta said: "A few maids actually told us that they were asked to sign a contract that was covered up so they couldn't see what they were signing."
Mina, 51, a maid from Manila who has worked in Dubai for three years, said: "Most domestic helpers here are getting only Dh800 a month, especially if they are working for a local family."
The minimum wage is one of a number of moves by the Philippine government to improve conditions for domestics. Others include raising the minimum age at which domestic workers can leave the country to 25 and requiring orientation classes prior to departure.
Emmanuel Geslani, an overseas recruitment consultant in Manila, said many maids feel they have no choice but to sign the second contract. "The housemaid is eager to work overseas so she is forced to sign," Mr Geslani said.
AA was lured to Dubai by a recruitment agent's promise of Dh1,500 a month for looking after an elderly woman, but she ended up working as a maid for Dh850.
"I didn't sign a contract in the Philippines, I signed a contract for Dh850 here in the UAE," AA said.
To make matters worse, she had agreed to pay an upfront placement fee of Dh4,300 to an agency in Baguio, the Philippines.
Joceline, from General Santos City, was made to sign a document in the UAE specifying a salary 20 per cent less than her original contract.
Contract substitution is also a big problem for maids from Indonesia. The embassy in Abu Dhabi says most complaints it receives from domestic workers concern that practice or long working hours.
In August last year Sutomo, the embassy's labour attaché, said Indonesian nationals were warned before they left for the Emirates that contracts signed in Jakarta were invalid in the UAE.
Of about 100,000 Indonesians in the Emirates, 75,000 are household workers. A report by the International Trade Union Confederation says there are 52,000 female domestic workers in Dubai, with 34,000 of them earning less than Dh1,000 a month.
Nasser Munder, the Philippine labour attaché in Abu Dhabi, said about 25,000 of the UAE's 600,000 Filipinos are domestic staff.
Maids are not covered by UAE labour law and come under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Interior.
The ministry did not comment on the issue when approached by The National.
* The National, with additional reporting by Ramona Ruiz