Saudi settles dispute over Filipina maid salaries

Meanwhile, labour officials in the UAE have repeated their call for Filipinas coming to work as domestic staff in the UAE not to accept wages below US$400.

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Saudi Arabia has lifted a ban on Filipina housemaids, and agreed to the Philippines' demand of a US$400 minimum monthly wage and more protection for domestic workers.

The Saudi government stopped processing housemaids' applications from the Philippines early last year after a disagreement on wages.

The Philippines wanted $400 (Dh1,469) but Saudi found that too high, saying the average was $200.

Jejomar Binay, the vice president of the Philippines, said yesterday the decision was "further proof of a shared commitment to protect the welfare of Filipino migrant workers in the kingdom".

Meanwhile, labour officials in the UAE repeated their call for Filipinas coming to work as domestic staff in the UAE not to accept wages below US$400.

Of major concern is contract substitution. After arriving, workers are offered second, inferior work contracts they feel they must sign.

"Once you sign you are bound by it," said Delmer Cruz, the labour attache at the Philippine overseas labour office in Dubai. "If you apply for a household service worker job, don't be convinced by the promises of a recruitment agency.

"The agency will tell applicants that the standard contract is $400 but warn them that they will only receive Dh900 - or even less."

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

For recruitment agencies that breach policies, Mr Cruz said: "We will enforce the full force of the law."

UAE recruitment agencies registered with the Philippine overseas labour office in Dubai that have a poor track record could face temporary suspension or blacklisting.

"We won't process further applications until complaints are resolved," Mr Cruz said.

His comments come after Rosalinda Baldoz, the labour secretary, told recruitment agencies on Tuesday they would be held accountable to ensure foreign employers comply with their legal and contractual obligation to Filipino domestic workers.

Their obligations include humane treatment, and payment of salaries and benefits.

The agencies must also assist in settling disputes, said Hans Cacdac, head of the Philippine overseas employment administration.

More than 100 women are living at a labour-office shelter in Dubai after fleeing their employer's homes. They left complaining of lack of food and sleep, maltreatment, overwork or not being paid.

Two Filipina maids who fled their employer's home in Palm Jumeirah on September 20 are among the women staying at the shelter.

The women, 41 and 45, worked for a British family for more than a year. They claimed they were paid only Dh850 a month, Mr Cruz said.

Their employer has filed an absconding report against them and both face a labour ban. Officials are asking the agencies that hired them to provide air tickets home.

Ibrahim Robel Beltran, of the Dubai chapter of Sangguniang Masang Pilipino International (Council of the Filipino Masses), said most suffer from culture shock and homesickness, while others have not been paid for a couple of months.

"We tell them they need to understand and co-operate with their employers and running away should be their last resort," Mr Beltran said.