Gulf Law at The Filipino Times 13 June 2015
The Filipino Times
Crusading lawyer launches OFW guidebook
DUBAI:He went to Dubai with an initial plan to be in the city for just a year so he could have “international exposure.”
Lawyer Barney Almazar, a partner at Gulf Law, has instead stayed on and, now in his fourth year, has come up with a basic how-to manual for Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Entitled, “Essential OFW Guide to UAE,” the book, designed in a very reader-friendly way under Almazar’s close supervision, is free and explains everything from sensitivity issues and Muslim weddings to contracts, gratuities and salary guides, basic labor rights, bank rules, abusive debt collectors, intoxication, divorce, having a baby, visa, deportation and immigration, among others.
The book, of which some 40,000 copies have been printed with help from Gulf Law, the copyright licensee, and the Philippine Embassy, is indeed the A to Z of all the rules that OFWs must have knowledge of to make it easier working in the UAE.
A mobile app is also in the works, Almazar said, and is planned to be launched by August.
Almazar’s exposure to the plight of OFWs in the UAE started in the course of his work as head of Gulf Law’s corporate commercial department, where he would set appointments with company officials through their secretaries, who mostly were from the Philippines.
“They (secretaries) were happy to see me because they have a Filipino lawyer who can give them legal advice; and so, when they kept asking, I told myself the Filipinos are not represented here.
“Gulf Law offered me to provide my services for several projects in the Philippines. ‘We need you,’ they said, and I said ‘Please help us.’ They asked me in and I told them if you want me to be a partner, my request is to help the Filipinos. Because I cannot practice here without a license, Gulf Law has allowed me.
“Then, I introduced them to Ambassador Grace Relucio-Princesa (the head of the Philippine mission to the UAE), who was very, very supportive of this cause; and so now, we have come up with a book,” Almazar said.
Almazar heads the monthly legal aid clinic at the Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi and Consulate in Dubai of which some 6,000 OFWs have been given free legal assistance since the program was started in January this year.
“We are seeing problems that are perennial,” he said. “There are lots of Filipinos who run in conflict with the law and when you ask them, they’ll say it wasn’t their intention to break the law, they just didn’t know.
“And so we are saying the first step to avoid being in trouble with the law in the UAE is knowing what you can and cannot do.”
Five main issues
Almazar said these problems take roots from five basic issues in the following order – indebtedness, intoxication, immorality, illegal recruitment and improper or fake documents.
“Everything stems from indebtedness, which spawns other problems,” he said.
Meantime, Almazar said the book, which will officially be launched during Philippine Independence Day celebrations at the Al Nasr Leisureland in Dubai and Dalma Mall in Abu Dhabi, may also be used as reference material for OFWs attending their Pre-Departure Orientation Seminar (PDOS) at the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) in Manila.
Sadly though, he said, the number of Filipinos skipping proper government procedures in going to UAE by entering the country with a visit visa has increased significantly.
Citing data from POEA, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Philippine Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO), Almazar said 200,000 of the 930,000 Filipinos in the UAE are “irregulars” meaning, he said, they went here as tourists.
“We studied the facts. In 2011, we only had 20,000 (irregulars); after a year, it reached 200,000 – a 1,000-percent increase. The problem is getting bigger; the figures are not going down,” Almazar said.
He added that it was for this reason that he and the ambassador have decided to head to Manila in the coming weeks to bring the matter up to DFA; likewise he said provisions on salary guide for the various positions being applied for have been included in the book so that unscrupulous employers cannot exploit Filipino jobseekers, whose visit visas are nearing expiration, and offer low rates – a practice which is reportedly rampant.
“Because the employer knows that your visa is expiring, you’re desperate, you’ll take whatever the offer is. But if you went through POEA, the employer cannot do that because you are protected,” Almazar said.
Some 20,000 of the book has already been set for free distribution of which 17,000 has been reserved, said Almazar, expressing hope that more funds can be made available from the Filipino community for reprints. The book, which took Gulf Law six months to put together, was printed through donations, he said.
A graduate of the University of the Philippines in Diliman with a degree in business administration, Almazar pursued his Masters in Business Administration and Juris Doctor degrees with specialization in International Business and European Union Law at the University of London’s Institute of Advanced Legal Studies.
Almazar, who holds a UAE legal consultancy license, is a lifetime member of the Philippine Bar and general council advisor of the Middle East Network of Filipino Diaspora.
A version of the book for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, home to over one million OWFs, and Qatar will also be produced.