31 -May -2020 - 13:34

Household Workers in Saudi

Labor chief Rosalinda Dimapilis-Baldoz is optimistic that Filipino household service workers (HSWs) who will work in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) will be amply protected after the Philippines and KSA agreed to a new Standard Employment Contract (SEC) for HSWs.

According to a Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) press release, the new SEC for HSWs contains stronger guarantees for the welfare and protection of HSWs, and the resumption of the verification and authentication of employment contracts of first-time HSWs, which will begin this October.

“This will pave the way for the resumption of the deployment of HSWs to the Kingdom. . . We are very confident all Filipino overseas workers will get the protection they need and deserve should they find it still desirable to work in Saudi Arabia as HSWs,” Baldoz said last week.

Baldoz issued the statement after the KSA Embassy in Manila announced the agreement for the resumption of the HSW contract verification and authentication which had been suspended since March 2011 when the Saudi government disallowed it, compelling the Philippines to stop contract processing of newly-hired HSWs.

Shortly after the suspension, the Philippines and Saudi Arabia convened the KSA-Philippines Joint Technical Committee which conducted meetings, discussions, and negotiations that led to the current agreement.

Details of the new Standard Employment Contract (SEC)

Baldoz said the new SEC for HSWs, which contain 19 articles, spells out clear and specific provisions on salary (minimum US$400) and the manner of its payment (bank account to be opened by the employer for the HSW in Saudi); rest hours (at least 8 hours of continuous rest) and rest days (at least one day per week); and paid vacation leave in the Philippines (30 days for every two years of service with free round-trip economy class air ticket).

It requires the employer to provide the HSW suitable and sanitary living quarters and adequate food, or equivalent money allowance; to allow the HSW to rest if she is sick, to continually pay her salary, and to shoulder the HSW’s medical expenses.

It also requires Saudi employers to provide free transportation from the Philippines and back upon the expiration of the HSW’s two-year contract; to ensure timely repatriation, including during cases of termination in which the HSW is not at fault.

In case of death, the employer is required to repatriate the remains and belongings of the HSW to the Philippines as soon as legally possible and without undue delay. In the event of war, civil disturbance, or major natural calamity, or in case the HSW suffers from serious illness or work injury medically proven to render her incapable of completing the contract, the employer is also required to repatriate the HSW at the employer’s expense.

Baldoz said one of the most important protection and welfare guarantee is the agreement and procedure on the settlement of disputes involving the HSW and the employer.

On this, her instruction was for the Philippine Overseas Labor Offices in Saudi Arabia to closely coordinate with their counterparts in the Kingdom, as well as with the Saudi foreign placement agencies/recruitment agencies to ensure the implementation of the agreement.

The new standard employment contract also contain eight special provisions that deal with the responsibility of informing the employer on the departure from the Philippines and arrival to Saudi Arabia of the HSW (the role of the Philippine recruitment agency and the Saudi recruitment agency); mutual respect; coverage of work (HSW to work solely for employer and immediate household); and payment of residence permit (iqama), exit/re-entry visa, and final exit visa, including renewals and penalties resulting from delays (the employer’s responsibility).

There are also special provisions that prohibits any deduction from the salary of HSW; a provision clearly stating that the passport and iqama of the HSW shall remain in her possession; and a special provision the requires the employer to allow the HSW to freely communicate with her family and the Philippine Embassy or Consulate at her expense.

Baldoz, who expressed satisfaction at the conclusion of the agreement with the Saudi government, said she intends to use the SEC for HSWs as a guide or model for forging similar contracts with other HSW-receiving countries because “this already contains, more or less, many of the salient standards in the ILO Convention 189, or the Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers.”

She also directed the members of the Philippine side of the KSA-Philippines Joint Technical Committee to continue the bilateral talks with Saudi officials on the other agreements and other areas of cooperation which remain unfinished, particularly those which the Saudi side had to implement, such as the setting up of welfare centers in the Kingdom, PH-Saudi bilateral agreement for HSW, mutual assistance in the settlement/resolution of disputes, and creation of Saudi government-owned mega-recruitment agencies.

She expressed optimism that with the goodwill generated by the initial agreements, the unfinished items, particularly the conclusion and signing of bilateral agreement on HSW, can be done before the end of the year.

Massive information campaign

With the impending resumption of the deployment of HSWs to the Kingdom, Baldoz ordered Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA); Administrator Carmelita Dimzon of the Overseas Worker Welfare Administration (OWWA); Philippine Labor Attaches to Saudi Arabia Albert Valenciano, Alejandro Padaen, and Adam Musa; and Director Restituto dela Fuente of the National Reintegration Center for OFWs (NRCO) to work with licensed recruitment agencies. A massive public information and education campaign will be conducted immediately, in the Philippines and KSA, on the major provisions of the new HSW SEC to foster adequate knowledge and awareness on the dos and don’ts, pros and cons, and the risks and rewards of living and working as an HSW in Saudi Arabia.

“I have directed the widest dissemination of a simple question and answer manual on the very important provisions of this agreement, which should give us the opportunity to really deliver the message to Philippine recruitment agencies, Saudi foreign placement agencies and employers, prospective Filipino HSWs, and the concerned Filipino public that we mean business when we say the deployment of HSWs is highly-regulated, with a very strong bias for welfare and protection,” Baldoz said.

“And as such, it should start with us at the DOLE. We should already take advantage of this new agreement to enforce a stronger regulatory regime for the deployment of HSWs and ensure that abuse and exploitation of our HSWs are stopped; and that uncaring recruiters, opportunistic middlemen, and abusive employers who do not treat our HSWs with respect and dignity as human beings and as workers are penalized and banned from ever participating in overseas employment,” she explained.

Training of HSWs

Baldoz further instructed Administrators Cacdac and Dimzon to work with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) and look into the Comprehensive Program on Training, Assessment, and Certification for HSWs and review jointly the module on OWWA mandatory language and culture, with a view of ensuring that only those with the required competencies are certified and allowed to process their contracts.

She instructed that TESDA, together with POEA, should work out a system of strictly regulating and monitoring the operation of training centers and weeding out the “notoriously undesirables.”

“I also ask OWWA and the NRCO to vigorously promote the national reintegration program, including its livelihood components, such as the Balik-Pinay, Balik Hanapbuhay Program, to provide our people a clear and better option to stay and not work abroad as a HSW,” she said.

On the recruitment of prospective HSWs from the provinces, Baldoz also instructed the POEA, OWWA, and NRCO to do a no-nonsense implementation of the Comprehensive Pre-Departure Education Program for HSWs (pre-employment and pre-departure seminars). This involves enabling prospective HSWs to clearly understand the unique culture of Saudi Arabia and its religion, language, customs and traditions, and laws and regulations so as to minimize cases that normally arise from cultural adjustment.

“The OWWA should re-visit the PDOS (Pre-Departure and Orientation Seminar) curriculum/module and intensify the close monitoring of its implementation by private sector providers. The OWWA, if necessary, should itself directly provide the PDOS,” she said.

“On the other hand, the POEA should further tighten the screws on erring employers, as well as recruitment agencies–both local and foreign. It should go hard against any or all of them, not only those hiring HSWs, but any OFW. It should simplify further its own processes and, as I have said last January, make it ‘easy to do’ business for those who comply and ‘easy to go’ for those who violate our rules,” Baldoz explained.

“I have assigned Undersecretary Danilo P. Cruz, cluster head for employment, to be on top of all these sustained welfare and protection activities and measures for our HSWs,” she added.