Philippines Signs Labour Agreement with Saudi

By Donna Corpin | Source: Saudi Gazette

Filipino household service workers (HSWs) in Saudi Arabia can now enjoy more rights and better protection after the signing of a “historic” agreement between the Kingdom and the Philippines in Jeddah on Sunday.

The bilateral agreement reinforces the Standard Employment Contract, which both countries had agreed last year, to be followed by Saudi employers and Filipino HSWs.

The Contract recognizes, among others, the SR1,500 minimum entry-level salary, weekly rest days and daily rest periods, paid vacation leave, non-withholding of passports and work permits, free communication, and humane treatment.

“It establishes the commitment of the two governments to implement the Contract and provide heightened protection for our domestic workers,” Rosalinda Dimapilis-Baldoz, Secretary of the Philippine Department of Labor and Employment, said at a joint press conference held after the signing.

The agreement requires that the Kingdom be responsible for the authenticity of the employment contract, opening of a bank account in the name of the domestic worker, a 24-hour mechanism for domestic workers’ assistance, the expeditious settlement of labor contract violation cases, and facilitation of exit visas for repatriation upon contract completion or during emergency situations.

For the Philippine government, the responsibilities include ensuring that workers are qualified and medically fit with no derogatory record, and verification of all employment contracts submitted by Saudi recruitment offices.

Baldoz said the agreement was a historic first for both sides. “This is the first time we have signed an agreement of this nature with a labor destination country which hosts the biggest number of OFWs in this part of the world.” She said it was also the first time Saudi Arabia has signed such an agreement with a labor-sending country.

In June 2011, the Philippines and Saudi Arabia had both voted for the adoption of the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 189 concerning decent work for domestic workers.

“In signing the agreement, the Kingdom demonstrates its resolve and commitment in ensuring that international labor standards … are observed,” Baldoz said.

Copies of the agreement will be circulated among Gulf Cooperation Council members as a reference guide, she said. “The Philippines is confident that other countries of destination of HSWs will emulate Saudi Arabia and thus follow a very commendable move.”

In October 2012, the Kingdom had agreed to lift the ban on Philippine HSWs. The ban was imposed in June the previous year.

According to Baldoz, there are an estimated 670,000 overseas Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia, but only around nine percent of them, or 60,000, are HSWs. That number is now expected to increase following the signing of the agreement.

“However, we are very confident that cases of abuse will be lessened after this agreement takes effect because it ensures fair and humane treatment of our HSWs and involves not only the government but also private recruitment agencies and other stakeholders in its implementation,” Baldoz said.

Deputy Labor Minister Mufreh Al-Haqabani attended the signing on behalf of Labor Minister Adel Fakieh. With him were Ahmed Alfehaid, Deputy Minister for International Relations; Hattab Saleh Alenezi, Adviser and General Supervisor of Public Relations and Information; and Saudi Ambassador to the Philippines Abdullah Al-Hassan and other government officials.

The signing was graced by Philippine Ambassador Ezzedin H. Tago, Consul General Uriel Norman Garibay, Consul Germinia Aguilar-Usudan, Administrator Carmelita Dimzon of the Overseas Workers Welfare Adminstration, Administrator Hans Leo J. Cacdac of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, Labor Attaché Adam Musa, Labor Attaché Alejandro Padaen, and Assistant Labor Attaché Alejandro V. Insa Cruz.

A joint committee comprised of senior officials from both sides will also be established, tasked with conducting periodic reviews, assessment and monitoring. Baldoz also said the Philippines is willing to organize and host the first meeting of the joint committee.

“We seek to continue to improve and strengthen our bilateral labor relations with Saudi Arabia for our mutual benefit,” Baldoz said.

Atoy Esguerra, project director of the advocacy group Kaagapay ng Bawat OFW, said the event was definitely a welcome development. He reiterated his proposal that an exclusive law firm be set up not just for distressed HSWs but all the members of the Filipino community with all types of grievances.

The accord identifies areas of cooperation, including:

1) a mutually acceptable recruitment and deployment system;

2) recruitment of domestic workers through recruitment offices that practice ethical recruitment and are licensed by their respective governments;

3) prohibition to charge or deduct from the salary of the domestic worker any cost attendant to recruitment and deployment nor impose any kind of unauthorized salary deductions;

4) right of recourse to competent authorities in case of contractual disputes, in accordance with applicable laws, rules, and regulations;

5) legal measures against recruitment offices, companies, or agencies for any violation of applicable laws, rules and regulations; and

6) resolution of any issue arising from the implementation and enforcement of the agreement

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