The Philippines government's refusal to allow domestic workers to leave for the UAE looks set to be lifted after an agreement between the two countries was signed on Tuesday.
Saqr bin Ghobash Saeed Ghobash, Minister of Human Resources and Emiratisation, and Silvestre Bello, secretary of the Philippines department of labour, signed an understanding that paves the way for domestic workers from the Philippines to be recruited for the UAE again.
Manila has in recent years implemented what is effectively a ban on its citizens travelling to the UAE and some other Gulf states for such work.
This was in part a result of the unscrupulous behaviour of recruiters and cases where employers subjected maids to abuse.
In the three years since Manila refused to stamp new contracts, its citizens have continued to travel to the UAE on visit visas to find work, while some recruiters have hired Filipinos as office cleaners, for example, then moved them into domestic work.
At times others have been stopped at airports, according to Philippines media, and in other cases the sub-legal status of the industry has allowed recruiters to continue to act unscrupulously.
State news agency Wam reported that Mr Ghobash said the agreement was the result of "many consultations held between the two countries", which began when the Cabinet tasked the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation with overseeing the welfare of domestic workers.
Future work contracts will be based on a new UAE model contract which has been approved by both countries.
UAE recruiters would have to send the contract to the employee in the Philippines, guaranteeing their salary and rights, which would be approved by the Philippines government. The document would be signed by the employer and worker when the worker arrived in the UAE.
Only recruiters approved by the ministry would be permitted to offer contracts. The measures are designed to ensure all involved are aware of their rights, the job they will be performing and that there can be no dispute over pay and conditions.
Barney Almazar, a lawyer for the Philippines embassy, said the aim was to ensure both governments know who is working where, and that their rights were upheld.
“The Government has been saying ‘we are the host country and it is our duty to protect them', and that is the case whether they are domestic workers or high professionals," he said.
There are about one million Filipino expats in the UAE, of whom about 20 per cent are domestic workers.
A series of changes to the law that set out rights and conditions for workers was approved by the Federal National Council in May.
The bill stipulated a weekly day off, 30 days’ paid holidays, at least 12 hours of rest a day including eight consecutive hours off. The right to retain passports and identity cards was also established. Previously, domestic workers were regulated by the Ministry of Interior, meaning disputes with employers at times ended with police involvement or in court.
Mr Almazar said that, at present, many workers are "not be able to negotiate with their employers".
Agents or job seekers currently apply for a tourist visa.
"Once they get to the UAE, they sign a contract as a domestic helper and visa is processed, and because of this situation, some individuals try to abuse the system," he said.
Recruiters would pay for the workers’ visa fees and air fares, but once they got to the UAE “it is as if they are being sold and bought to this or that family”.
As there was no role for their government in this process, “they are forced to accept whatever terms and conditions are being offered”.
“We are hoping that under this process it will be easier for the Filipinos to leave the country, and at the same time easier for UAE residents to hire household service workers, because at the end of the day, Filipinos want to earn and be able to come to the UAE and work.”