Hiring ban spurs 'maids for rent' in Middle East

MANILA, Philippines - "Normina," a Filipina domestic worker in Saudia Arabia, ran away years ago from her employer after she was abused, but still works in the country as an illegal "maid for rent."

With no contract and therefore no rights, she is employed by two Saudi families, has no days off and makes 800 riyals (about P9,000) a month, half of which goes to the broker who hired her.

But "Normina," who is afraid to reveal her true name, needs to survive in order to send remittances to her relatives. This is the only way she can get work because she is an absconder and will get deported if a case is filed against her, like any other migrant worker without a contract in the Middle East.

She is a "maid for rent," a rapidly growing phenomenon in Gulf Cooperating Council countries since Saudi Arabia decided to ban the hiring of new Filipina and Indonesian domestic workers in July 2011.

Abuse stems from abuse

The Kingdom announced it would stop issuing work permits to maids precisely after the Philippines and Indonesia revised their hiring guidelines to curb the rampant abuse of their nationals working in the country.

Manila turned down a request from Riyadh for the minimum wage to be lowered from US$400 to $200, and Jakarta said it would not be sending more household help until Saudi Arabia agreed to protect certain migrant labor rights.

A year later, the ban has provoked a shortage of domestic workers in the whole region that in turn has created a high demand for transient maids, said John Monterona, regional coordinator for Migrante-Middle East.

Monterona, himself an OFW working in Saudi Arabia, told Rappler that "it is an abuse because there is no formal employment contract, and that way the workers are prone to all types of abuses."

"If you have a contract, you are protected by your rights, but if there is no formal agreement, there is no protection at all for the migrant worker," he explained.

Brokers take half the salary

Monterona noted that most "maids for rent" are hired by brokers who know the women are subject to deportation, and threaten them with reporting them to the authorities if they do not receive up to 50% of the wages paid by the employer.

"The broker takes a commission off the OFW, and their cut is very high," according to Monterona, who has been documenting between 2-5 cases a month in the past year.

He said that most of the women are absconded maids who ran away from their employers because they were abused, but need to work in order to keep sending money to their families in the Philippines.

"We have even heard, although this is not confirmed yet, that some of the brokers are employed by the same foreign recruitment agencies that legally bring in the OFWs," added Monterona.

Deregulated labor market

Monterona explained that the problem stems from the laws that require domestic workers to work exclusively for her original employer or sponsor in the host country.

If the women are abused, run away and are apprehended, the recruitment agencies pay a hefty fine and are banned from hiring maids for 5 years, while the workers are deported back to their country of origin.

That creates a situation in which it is better for both parties to not report abuses in order to avoid sanctions and deportation.

“This is a clear harmful offshoot of a deregulated labor export program by the Philippine government where agencies and brokers, as middlemen, are given by the government full leeway in peddling OFWs as cheap labor,” Monterona said in a statement.

Migrante-Middle East urged the Department of Labor and Employment and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration to investigate the "maid for rent" phenomenon.

"Saying that the maid for rent happens in an... isolated manner is an understatement. It is now becoming so rampant that it even created a market that is not only illegal but also dehumanizes migrant household service workers," concluded Monterona. - Rappler.com


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