The Blas F. Ople Policy Center, a non-government organization that assists distressed overseas workers, called on the Philippine government to speak with one voice when addressing Saudi Arabia’s ban on the hiring of Filipino household workers.
“We cannot afford to send mixed signals or come up with a vague response because the jobs of millions of Filipino workers could be on the line,” Susan Ople, the head of the BFO Center said.
The former labor undersecretary said that the firm position of the Department of Labor and Employment not to agree on the lowering of the prescribed US$400 minimum wage for overseas household workers led to Saudi’s decision to stop hiring Filipino kasambahays. The policy center said it is important to know whether the DoLE position will be backed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Philippines as a whole.
“The Saudi government is actually doing us a favor because it is forcing the Philippine government to formulate a unified position on the issue of overseas domestic workers and why our women continue to leave despite constant reports of abuse and rapes involving household workers in the Middle East,” Ople stressed.
The daughter of the late labor and foreign affairs secretary Blas F. Ople recalled that this was not the first time that the Philippines and Saudi Arabia reached an impasse over the rights and welfare of Filipino household workers. The very first time such an impasse took place was during the early years of President Corazon C. Aquino.
“What is sad is that we never had the political will to put up specific programs to alleviate the burden on women workers who have since left and continue to leave the country to serve even in the most abusive households across the seas. We rant whenever they are abused but other than that, there is really very little in the horizon for low-skilled women in terms of local jobs and sustainable incomes,” Ople explained.
The Ople Center, however, agreed that both parties must maintain an open line of communications because the bilateral ties between the Philippines and Saudi Arabia go a long way back. Filipino workers worked in the kingdom as far back as the 70’s and 80’s when Saudi Arabia needed foreign workers to sustain its economic boom. “The message should be clear — Saudi Arabia is a good friend of the Philippines and a hospitable host to many of our workers particularly those valued for their skills and experience.”
“The Philippines needs to walk the diplomatic tightrope in asserting the human rights of our household workers without affecting hundreds and thousands of Filipino success stories that abound in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the president of the Ople Center said.
The OFW advocate noted that the US$400 wage level is often violated by Arab and other foreign employers making it hard for the Philippines to enforce it overseas.
She also called on the Philippine Embassy in Saudi Arabia and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration to monitor cases of household service workers who are not being allowed to come home by their Saudi employers though their work contracts and residency permits have expired.
“Human trafficking is a major concern. Because of the Saudi ban, some employers may try to hold on to their Filipino maids even when their contracts have expired because it would now be more difficult to get a replacement from the Philippines and even Indonesia,” Ople added. The Saudi government has likewise ordered the suspension in the hiring of domestic workers from Indonesia.
The Blas F. Ople Policy Center believes that the entire government machinery must be mobilized in crafting and delivering livelihood and other forms of assistance to Filipino households to be affected by the Saudi ban.
“Hindi lang ito dapat nakaasa sa balikat ng DoLE o DFA. Sa napakahabang panahon, ang mga kasambahay natin sa Gitnang Silangan ay nagtiis ng pag-aabuso para lamang sa kanilang mga pamilya. Panahon na para makatikim naman sila ng pagkalinga mula sa gobyerno,” Ople said.