Saudi maids ban 'may cause ripples'

Saudi Arabia's decision to stop the processing of employment contracts for Filipino domestic workers 'until further notice' may have a ripple effect across countries within the Gulf, a recruitment expert has warned.

Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

ABU DHABI // The Saudi Arabian government’s move to stop processing employment contracts for Filipino domestic workers may have a ripple effect across countries within the Gulf, a recruitment expert has warned.

“We are concerned about the far-reaching repercussions,” said Victor Fernandez, president of the Philippine Association of Service Exporters, which represents 700 licensed recruitment agencies.

“Saudi is a dominant force in the GCC, and if it is taking this position, other countries may consider a similar move.”

In a diplomatic note sent to the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh on March 12, the Saudi ministry of foreign affairs said that “the processing and verification of household service workers have been stopped until further notice”.

The Saudi government did not give a reason for the ban, but Mr Fernandez believes it may be connected to a reform package for household workers the Philippines introduced in December 2006, which raised the minimum monthly wage of housemaids to US$400 (Dh1,469) from $200.

“It remains to be seen whether other GCC countries, including the UAE, will also stop processing housemaids’ contracts,” said Nasser Munder, the labour attaché in Abu Dhabi.

“We hope that employers will comply with the $400 salary mandated by our government. But Filipina housemaids also have to work hard to prove that they deserve that salary.”

Saudi employers are now required to submit a detailed sketch of the accommodation they will provide to the domestic helper before the Philippine overseas labour offices will approve the job order. Employers in the UAE do not have to provide this information.

“Saudi employers are saying that this violates their right to privacy,” said John Leonard Monterona, the Middle East regional co-ordinator for Migrante, a Filipino migrant rights group. “This may be one of the reasons why the Saudi government stopped the processing of household workers’ contracts.”

There are about 1.6 million overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Saudi Arabia, of which 15 to 20 per cent are maids, according to Vicente Cabe, the labour attaché at the Philippine consulate in Jeddah.

On Saturday, the Philippines’ vice president Jejomar Binay met with the Saudi foreign, labour and trade ministers in Riyadh to discuss issues including the recruitment of Filipino household workers.

A statement from Mr Binay’s office quoted the labour minister, Adel Fakeih, as saying Saudi Arabia will be “a good host” to the OFWs, and co-operate in solving problems relating to working conditions and contracts. Mr Binay said a meeting will be held in Manila on April 15 to address issues concerning the hiring of domestic workers.

But Walden Bello, a member of the Akbayan party at the Philippine congress, said: “If we are to live up to the revised Migrant Workers Act or Republic Act 10022, the ban should have begun from the Philippines’ side and not from Saudi Arabia.”

Last month, he and three other legislators presented a report, The Dark Kingdom: The Conditions of Overseas Filipino Workers in Saudi Arabia, to the Philippine Congress.

The group, which visited Riyadh, Jeddah and Al Khobar, documented abuses suffered by Filipina domestic workers at the hands of their Saudi employers.