Philippines fails to implement pro-OFW law – watchdog

Buena Bernal
Philippines fails to implement pro-OFW law – watchdog
OFWs who have been abused in the UAE slam the Philippine government for slow progress of labor cases and laxity in monitoring proper implementation of labor contracts

MANILA, Philippines – If only national laws were effectively implemented, Filipino migrant domestic workers like Marelie Brua and Marina Sarno should not have suffered abuse in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

“The State shall deploy overseas Filipino workers only in countries where the rights of Filipino migrant workers are protected,” the Republic Act 8042 or the Migrant Workers Act of 1995 mandates.

The law requires a bilateral agreement between the Philippines and the migrant-receiving country aimed at protecting overseas workers’ rights. The host country must also be a signatory to pro-labor international treaties, have an inclusive labor law covering migrant workers, and be constantly pursuing measures to protect migrant workers’ interests.

“What we are not seeing enough of is a good implementation of these policies,” said Human Rights Watch (HRW) researcher Rothna Begum, who recently wrote about the plight of migrant household helpers in the Arab state. 

Begum noted that the UAE failed in all 4 conditions under the Migrant Workers Act.

Begum presented on Thursday, October 23, the HRW report “I Already Bought You: Abuse and Exploitation of Female Migrant Domestic Workers in the United Arab Emirates.” Her audience included mostly labor rights advocates, academicians, and journalists.

The abuses she outlined ranged from rape, denial of pay and communication with family back home, to days of isolation and forced confinement.

PH play equally important role

While her report focuses on reforms needed in the systems and laws within the UAE, she said labor-sending countries like the Philippines have an equally important role in preventing these abuses.

The Arab country “failed to protect domestic workers and fostered the conditions for such abuse and conditions to take place,” Begum said. (READ: Migrant domestic workers in UAE treated like ‘animals’)

Yet, she added, “the UAE is one of the top 10 destinations for domestic workers in the Philippines.” 

The Philippines has been sending increasingly more such workers to the Gulf state each year since 2011, with 34,000 in 2014 alone.

Begum said the “lack of economic opportunities” in the Philippines is what “drives women to take up domestic work in countries like the UAE.” 

She added that there is an “ideal work contract” for migrant workers standardized by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA). 

Yet the contracts do not apply in the UAE, Begum said. There is no assurance the Arab employers really comply with the deal that had lured the domestic helpers from leaving home for greater pay.

This has led to repeated exploitation by employers in the UAE, who insist to their foreign helpers that it is standard practice not to give them the salary they had expected based on their contracts.

PH efforts not enough

Brua and Sarno, who have returned home after maltreatment from their Arab bosses, likewise expressed dismay on the inadequacy of the Philippine government’s efforts to protect their interests.

Brua shared how the vice consul in the Philippine embassy in UAE dismissed her OFW-friends’ claims of abuse over unpaid wages and excessive work, citing the absence physical violence.

Bakit? Nasaktan ba sila? Nasugatan ba sila? Binugbog ba sila? Na-rape ba sila? (Why? Were they hurt? Were they injured? Were they beaten? Were they raped?)” she quoted the embassy official. 

Sarno, on the other hand, said her case before the labor arbiter against the recruitment agency that turned a blind eye to her suffering has dragged on longer than necessary.

The agency made her sign an untruthful report detailing her boss’ compliance with the labor contract they had entered into in exchange for her plane ticket to home.

Para sa akin po, talagang feel ko na kulang sa supporta yung government natin (For me, I really feel that the support of our government is lacking),” she said.

Philippines-UAE MOU 

In April 2007, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was likewise signed by the Philippine labor department and the UAE ministry of labor. The agreement gave UAE authorities and courts the power to settle disputes between Arab employers and Filipino workers.

Begum explained in her HRW report that these opportunities for migrant helpers to seek justice are rendered inutile by steep legal fees and trumped-up countercharges, usually of theft, filed by the employer in the UAE.

Lawyer Henry Rojas, legal counsel for the Center for Migrant Advocacy, said these old MOUs of the government are “useless” and contain mere pro-labor rhetoric.

“An MOU is a form of bilateral agreement but an MOU should have clear implementable provisions and should not contain mere motherhood statements in order to be useful,” he said.

“This means that there are specific provisions that can be implemented on the ground, including sanctions, if called for,” he added. –

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