ABU DHABI // Recruitment agencies who provide Filipino domestic staff to employers for less than the minimum wage of US$400 (Dh1,470) a month face being suspended or blacklisted.
Angry employers have responded by threatening to force housemaids to work 24 hours a day, cut back on the number of staff they employ or hire staff from other countries.
The last option may be limited, however, as authorities overseas move to protect the rights of their citizens employed in the UAE.
For Indonesian workers, a Dh800 minimum wage was set by the UAE Ministry of Interior at least five years ago, and Indonesian authorities have already blacklisted several employers for failure to comply.
India has set a Dh1,100 minimum wage for domestic staff in the UAE, Sri Lanka Dh825 and Bangladesh Dh750. Nepal requires a minimum wage of Dh900 and has banned women under 30 from working in the Arabian Gulf. Pakistan has ceased attesting documents for domestic staff.
Last month more than 30 recruitment agencies in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain and 40 in Dubai and the Northern Emirates signed an agreement on pay and working conditions with the Philippine association of manpower agencies for UAE.
The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) introduced a reform package in December 2006 requiring household staff to be paid a monthly minimum wage of $400, to be at least 23 years old, have received skills training and attended a seminar on language and culture. Recruits should also not pay placement fees.
Both parties committed to follow the reform package and ensure that workers’ benefits are provided by the employer: one rest day a month, three meals a day, eight hours of uninterrupted sleep, decent sleeping quarters and the right to own and use a mobile phone.
“After last month’s signing, we’ve been trying send the message that we’re serious about implementing it,” said Delmer Cruz, the labour attache at the Philippine overseas labour office in Dubai.
Recruitment agencies could be under “preventive” suspension pending an investigation by the POEA in Manila.
“This is to prevent further exploitation of other workers who are to be deployed to the UAE,” Mr Cruz said. “They can also face disqualification, or blacklisting.”
Nasser Munder, the labour attache in Abu Dhabi, said: “I’ve been asking agencies to tell the sponsors that in exchange for $400, they’ll get quality service from Filipina maids. But they have the prerogative to choose another nationality.”
Most employers are willing to pay only Dh900 for inexperienced and Dh1,000 for experienced staff, said a 32-year-old Filipina secretary at a recruitment agency in Abu Dhabi. “They’re very angry,” she said. “Three out of 10 said they might try other nationalities. Those who agree to pay Dh1,500 warned they’ll ask their maid to work 24 hours, and for those with large houses, they’ll not hire additional staff.”
Both labour attaches are monitoring recruitment agencies for breaches of the new rules.
“There has been a substantial improvement in terms of agencies’ commitment to comply with the $400 minimum wage,” said Mr Cruz. “But we do not expect change to happen overnight.”
By the first quarter of 2013, the labour attaches will be able to determine the compliance of recruitment agencies in the Philippines and their counterpart agencies in the UAE.
“We’ll check whether or not the workers deployed to the UAE after November 10 received the minimum wage,” Mr Cruz said.
Contract substitution and the non-payment of wages is a concern shared by the Indonesian embassy in Abu Dhabi for its domestic workers.
Wisnu Suryo Hutomo, the co-ordinator for citizen’s affairs at the embassy, said the Dh800 minimum wage for Indonesian workers was set by the UAE Ministry of Interior.
“It’s the wage for the past five to six years,” he said. “We’re now fighting for a much higher rate than that. In terms of demand,
it’s much higher than the Philippines so we’re looking at a wage that is as close as their $400 minimum wage.”
Inflation and the cost of living have to be considered. The minimum wage in Jakarta is now 2.2 million Indonesian rupiah (Dh920) a month, he said.
“We’ve got so many cases of maids being paid Dh700 or Dh750, while others are not being paid at all,” Mr Hutomo said. “I’ve told recruitment agencies that they won’t get a job order and will be blacklisted. We’ve also blacklisted some sponsors.”
Dipak Adhikari, the deputy chief of the mission at the Nepalese embassy in Abu Dhabi, said the minimum monthly salary of its domestic workers is Dh900 a month. This year, the embassy has not received any reports of sponsors paying below the minimum.
“We only come to know about it when the worker complains,” he said.
In August, Mr Adhikari said they received a communique on the Nepalese government's move to ban women under 30 from working as housemaids in Arabian Gulf countries. The embassy had already stopped certifying documents of those maids who are younger than 30. The new regulations are intended to keep young women safe.
* with additional reporting by Anwar Ahmad