Friday, October 24, 2014

UAE's visa sponsorship system ties domestic workers to abuse – HRW

Domestic helpers continue to be at the mercy of abusive employers due to their exclusion from changes made to ‘kafala’, the visa sponsorship system of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) .
 
According to the 79-page report “‘I Already Bought You’: Abuse and Exploitation of Female Migrant Domestic Workers in the United Arab Emirates” by rights watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW), the kafala system enables migrant workers to “enter, live and work legally in the UAE (via) a single employer who also serves as the worker’s visa ‘sponsor’”.
 
“On top of chaining them to their employer, the UAE explicitly excluded domestic workers from the protection of the labor law, and then left them, isolated, in unregulated private homes. As such, domestic workers- many of whom are from the Philippines- find them exposed to abuse,” said Rothna Begum, Women’s Rights researcher for HRW and author of the report.
 
Because the kafala system requires permission from even abusive employers to leave, domestic workers must either complete their contracts and get their sponsors to cancel their work permit and residence visa or get a “no-objection” certificate signed by their employer before the end of their contract. The second option will require paying a sponsorship transfer fee to the immigration department.
 
Most, however, resort to absconding from their employers, leading to fines, deportation, a one-year entry ban, and — according to the 2014 UAE standard contract — forfeiture of rights.
 
Domestic workers caught in the act of absconding may get sent back to their owners, exposing them to further abuse.
 
These acts, detailed in the HRW report, include physical, sexual, psychological, and verbal abuse; excessive work hours with little sleep; passport and cellphone confiscation; and denial of food, healthcare, and proper living accommodations.
 
Marelie Brua, a former OFW, testified to the systemic abuse of workers, saying her employer’s children treated her like a plaything after her parents “bought” her for 10,000 dirhams.
 
“Sabi ni madam na lahat kami, nagpipirma- kasi sa pamilya nila, walo ang Pilipina na nandun, pero hindi sila nakatanggap ng $400 — 500 dirhams lang. Yung sa akin, eight (800 dirhams), pero alam ko na hindi ‘yun ung equivalent na pera sa $400,” she said.
 
Changes difficult
 
Despite being urged by the UN and by a US Trafficking in Persons report to abolish or change the kafala, deep cultural roots prevent its citizens and government from completely abandoning the system.
 
Yet Begum thinks it is a systemic problem and not a cultural one, saying the existence of the system allowed its promotion as a cultural phenomenon.
 
“When a system fosters it (or) allows for such abuse to take place and effectively tells the employer ‘You can make her work for how many hours a day, you don’t have to give her a day off’ because there’s no law that says you have to give her a day off, employers will make them work seven days a week,” she explained.
 
She added that the cultural background of employers didn’t matter, as both Emiratis and expats, which make up 80 percent of UAE’s population, are capable of perpetrating abuse.
 
Pressure, household changes needed for kafala changes
 
Begum said enough pressure must be put on the government by labor-sending countries and by countries it is economically tied to encourage UAE to change ‘kafala’.
 
She also stressed that the UAE must include their domestic forced labor issues in dealing with human trafficking, which only deals with sexual exploitation.
 
“Their own body that deals with trafficking has stated that they want to keep labor issues separate from trafficking, which means they do not wanna deal with the systematic abuses that allow trafficking and forced labor to take place, which is primarily the kafala system,” she said.
 
Lorenzo Jungco, special assistant from the DFA Office for Migrant Workers, said that while Persian Gulf states are sincere in their efforts to change labor practices, this change must reach its citizens first.
 
“Those ideals are (at) the government level. It has to permeate down the household level in order for it to be effective,” Jungco said.
 
Kafala rules were changed by Ministerial Resolution No. 1186 in 2010, allowing migrant workers to transfer from one employer to another without finishing their contracts if certain conditions are met.
 
But unlike other migrant workers covered by the new labor law, domestic workers are excluded from its coverage, leading to routine abuses of kafala. — JDS, GMA News

Pinay maid in Saudi accuses employer of harassment

A Filipina maid in Qassim in Saudi Arabia has accused her employer of harassing her, and has sought protection from the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Riyadh.
 
The household service worker from Ampatuan in Maguindanao is now staying with other runaway workers at Bahay Kalinga under the POLO-Riyadh, Arab News reported.
 
She reportedly suffered "unpleasant overtures" from her employer on Aug. 26, 28 and 29. She then lodged a complaint with the Philippine Embassy against him.
 
But when the employer and his family went to Dubai two weeks ago, he brought her to the Saudi capital, and asked the driver to take her to the Philippine Embassy to withdraw her complaint.
 
"That’s how I managed to come here,” the Filipina told Arab News.
 
The OFW arrived in the Kingdom in May 2014 and got a monthly salary of SR1,200, below the SR1,500 as agreed between the Philippine and Saudi governments.
 
But while the OFW said she wanted to just transfer to another employer, the legal officer reportedly told her she would have to return to the Philippines to solve her problem to process her papers, without violating the Kingdom’s labor laws.
 
The Arab News report said labor attache Rustico dela Fuente could not immediately be contacted. It cited a source who said the Filipina will be endorsed to the Saudi Social Welfare Administration.
 
The OFW also said she was illegally deployed to Saudi Arabia, saying her paper was processed by one Trustworthy Manpower Agency "but it was no longer in existence at the time."
 
"So, my papers were passed on to another agency,” she said. — Joel Locsin/JDS, GMA News

PHL domestic helpers still endure abuses, exploitation despite laws –group

Despite being rich in pro-migrant worker laws and policies, the Philippines lacks oversight and implementing mechanisms for these laws to actually benefit domestic workers.

This conclusion was bared by Rothna Begum, women's rights researcher on the Middle East and North Africa, during Thursday's release of the 79-page report by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) on the alleged abuses committed on foreign domestic helpers in the United Arab Emirates.
 
From L to R: Marina Sarno and Marelie Brua, former OFWs; Rothna Begum, Women's Rights researcher, Human Rights Watch; Ellene Sana, Exec. Dir., Center for Migrant Advocacy; Carlos Conde, Philippine researcher, Human Rights Watch; Rep. Walden Bello, House committee on overseas workers' affairs chairperson. Rie Takumi
“Workers in the UAE have told me that they were still being abused and exploited despite such laws and policies, which indicates that there is much more going on if the Philippines’ laws and policies are not able to protect them,” said Begum, who interviewed 99 female domestic workers, recruitment agents and employers in the UAE for the HRW report titled “‘I Already Bought You’: Abuse and Exploitation of Female Migrant Domestic Workers in the United Arab Emirates.”

“Even if we have all these provisions with the law, how can we make sure that these are complied with? Because when (OFWs) reach the destination country, how do you get into the houses of the employers will comply with these provisions?” said Ellene Sana, executive director of the Center for Migrant Advocacy.

HRW Philippine researcher Carlos Conde said none of the parameters for deployment of migrant workers are being followed in the Philippines as much as in the UAE.

“Receiving countries should be signatories to international instruments on protection of migrant workers and the UAE is not one of them, so why are we sending migrant domestic workers to the UAE?” asked Conde.

The Philippines has a number of provisions for the protection of migrant workers under Republic Act No. 8042 or the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995.

Seminars

During the release of the report, pre-departure orientation seminars (PDOS) required for outgoing OFWs were criticized for their alleged inability to inform departing Filipino migrant workers of their rights abroad. Instead, they become avenues for various companies to promote and even sell their products and services.

"A lot of players are competing for time that are being allotted for the training. We're talking about banks, real estate agents being introduced during the PDOS training... That is where the government should step in," Conde said.

Begum said the seminars “are not providing (OFWs) the right sort of information about what they are expected to face in the UAE, nor are they getting enough awareness raising about what they are really facing in the UAE or other Gulf countries.”

Sana, meanwhile, criticized the contracts prescribed by the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) and signed by departing domestic helpers in the Philippines. While ideal, she said their nullification by the contracts domestic helpers are made to sign upon their arrival in the UAE showed the need for greater policy monitoring.

‘Modern slavery’

Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello, who heads the House committee on overseas workers' affairs, said the Philippine government needs “a much larger and sustained focus on the conditions of labor.”

He alleged that “exploitation is the normal condition” in the Gulf states.

“Slavery was abolished in the 1950’s. Unfortunately, the whole legacy of slavery continues until today… We really have conditions of modern slavery in the Gulf states,” he said.

Bello also said that the HRW study has similarities with the 2011 congressional report on the condition of OFWs in Saudi Arabia.

Not just for domestic helpers

According to HRW’s report, there are 146,000 documented female migrant domestic workers in the UAE. Because 88.5 percent of its population is composed of migrants, measures taken by the UAE for their protection include revised standard contracts for domestic workers, draft law on domestic workers, and system changes to ‘kafala,’ among others.

However, these changes either have yet to be implemented, fall short of the protection afforded by the country’s labor law, or do not apply to domestic workers.

The draft law entitling domestic workers to paid leaves and sick days has yet to be ratified despite showing support for the 2011 International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 189 concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers.

Changes to “kafala” and contracts exclude domestic workers from the changes, preventing them from transferring to one employer to another before their contract is terminated in case of abuse or employer breach of contract.

UAE 'silent on the issue'

Despite proclaiming itself as an “open country” and joining the International Labor Organization, the UAE government has yet to respond to HRW’s calls for reform.

Their censorship also made the study difficult to complete, the HRW said.

“They have been silent on the issue. They are not willing to [talk] to us… When we did the research, we went in without informing the government because if we did, they would’ve monitored us,” said Begum.

“When we approach them afterwards, they do not want to speak with us. [But] we continue to want to engage with UAE authorities because frankly, they are the ones who can make the changes,” she added.

UAE was the second top OFW destination identified by the POEA in 2011. —KBK, GMA News

Trafficked Pinoy teachers in the US urged to come out in the open

Philippine officials in the United States are appealing to some 500 Filipino teachers there who were victimized by illegal recruiters to reach out to the embassy so that they could be given sufficient assistance.

“Our teachers need not be afraid. We are here to help,” said Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia, Jr. after learning of the sad plight of the undocumented Filipino teachers.

He said the embassy is ready to provide them legal assistance for their repatriation and filing of charges against their recruiters.

Also among the consular assistance that the embassy will extend to the trafficked teachers are waiving of the authentication fees as well as issuance of the necessary certification to support their request for immigration relief with the US Department of Homeland Security, Cuisia said.

Labor Attaché Angel Borja said the embassy will also recommend that employment opportunities being offered to Filipinos in the US be first verified to determine if such jobs exist.

In a meeting with some 25 trafficked Filipino teachers, Cuisia assured them that authorities in the Philippines continue the pursue alleged illegal recruiter Isidro Rodriguez, who managed to escape from detention several months ago.

“We will not stop until we get Isidro Rodriguez,” he said.

A total of 21 illegal recruitment cases have been filed against Rodriguez, while 41 recruitment violation cases have been filed against his company, Renaissance Staffing Support Center Inc. in Manila since 2003, the Philippine Embassy said.

Borja said Rodriguez' victims could be as many as 1,000—all of them teachers whom he allegedly was able to convince to pay from $10,000 to $15,000 each for non-existing jobs in various public schools across the US from 2003 to 2007.

Lawyer Arnedo Valera, executive director of the Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC), a non-government organization that has been providing legal assistance to many of the teachers, said cases have also been filed against Rodriguez with the US Citizenship and Immigration Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Valera said that while some of the teachers decided to head back to the Philippines, most opted to take a chance by staying and working illegally in the US.

He said these teachers had no choice but to take menial jobs to allow them to provide for their families and at the same time pay the high-interest loans they secured for their placement fees.

“Although as many as 300 of the teachers have already been issued trafficking visas and can now legally stay and work in the US, most are hesitant to surface because of shame and fear,” Valera said.

“But they are now coming forward one by one.” Elizabeth Marcelo/KBK, GMA News

Foreign maids endure abuse in UAE –int’l human rights group

Foreign maids from impoverished countries endure physical, sexual and emotional abuse in the United Arab Emirates, trapped by a system that denies them protection, an international rights group said Thursday.

Human Rights Watch called on the UAE to reform a restrictive visa system and pass a labor law for domestic workers to stop the abuses.

"We already bought you. You don't have the right to complain," Filipina Marelie Brua said in a video interview with HRW, recounting her former employer's words.

Brua said she was paid 800 dirhams ($218) per month instead of 1,000 dirhams ($272) as stated in her contract.

"As I pretended to clean the playroom, I was punching the floor, crying. Is this all I get for taking a chance here? I kept on blaming myself," she said.

At 800 dirhams, Brua's pay is roughly equivalent to the Philippines' minimum wage.

Brua is one of 99 domestic workers who shared her harrowing experiences for a multimedia HRW report on the abuse, released in Manila.

The UAE hosts 146,000 female maids mostly from the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Ethiopia, according to HRW.

The rights group said the UAE must reform its visa system to allow maids to transfer employers without penalty.

Under the current system, domestic workers face being banned from future employment if they try to switch jobs.

Employers acts as the maids' visa "sponsors" and this leaves them "exposed to abuse", according to HRW.

Aside from passing labor legislation for maids, the UAE must cap maids' work hours and enforce a regulation granting them one day off per week, as well as mandating eight hours of rest in any 24-hour period, it said.

Maids are not covered by existing UAE labor law and were also excluded from recent visa reforms, HRW said.

HRW also said countries sending workers to the UAE must strengthen their embassy staff there, inform their nationals of their rights and coordinate more closely with the UAE government on abuse cases.

From the Philippines, many maids get mired in debt to process work papers even before they head abroad and spend years paying these off before they can offer help their families back home.

Another Filipina maid featured in HRW's report, Jeany Alfiler, had her left forearm covered with a dark scar.

She said her former employer's mother pressed on it with a flat iron after she refused to help her dry dates under the sun.

"I screamed in pain," she said in a video interview.

Neither UAE or Philippine officials were immediately able to respond to the abuse claims. —Agence France-Presse

PRC: 119 pass special licensure exam for electrical engineers in MidEast

A total of 31 out of 87 Registered Electrical Engineers and 88 out of 202 Registered Master Electricians passed the Electrical Engineer Licensure Examinations given in the Middle East this month, the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) announced on Thursday.

The PRC said the exams were given in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; Al-Khobar and Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; and in Doha, Qatar.

[Click here for list of passers in Registered Electrical Engineer Licensure Exam.]

[Click here for list of passers in Registered Master Electrician Licensure Exam.]

Registration for the issuance of Professional Identification Card (ID) and Certificate of Registration will start on October 29, the PRC said. —KBK, GMA News

Bodies of 4 of 5 Pinoys killed in Qatar car accident repatriated

The remains of four of the five Filipinos who were killed in a car accident in Qatar earlier this month arrived in the Philippines Thursday, according to a report on "Balita Pilipinas."

The report said the bodies of couple Ben Chris and Josephine Rivera and their one-year-old son Adrian were released Thursday and will be brought to Cagayan de Oro city where their relatives reside.

Meanwhile, the remains of Marilou Cal will be released on Friday when her relatives arrive from Naga City in Camarines Sur, the report said.

The remains of the fifth victim, identified as Joyce Lozada Gelli, were still in Qatar as her family is planning to take her home to Mindanao, the report further said.

The victims were killed last October 6 when their car caught fire after being hit by another vehicle near the airport on the Corniche-Wakra highway.

Cal and Gelli were Saudi Arabia-based nurses who were vacationing in Qatar when the incident happened.

A sixth victim, a nurse in Saudi Arabia who was reportedly related to the Riveras, survived the accident. —KBK, GMA News

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