Abu Dhabi: There is an inverse relationship between the number of runaway housemaids and that of blacklisted recruitment agencies, at least in the case of Sri Lankans in Abu Dhabi.
The more the number of unscrupulous recruitment agents blacklisted by the authorities, the less the number of runaway housemaids taking refuge in the embassy’s shelter house, said a top diplomat.
The number of runaway housemaids in the shelter house of the Sri Lankan Embassy in Abu Dhabi has gone down by at least 80 per cent in the past three years, Sarath Wije Singhe, Sri Lankan Ambassador to the UAE, told Gulf News in an interview.
He said this downward trend began when the embassy started taking strict action against unscrupulous recruitment agencies. The number of complaints related to other labour disputes also started going down, he said.
“Now there are just five runaway housemaids in the shelter. About three years ago there used to be 20 to 30 such women in the shelter house. But the number has been going down in the past three years,” Singhe explained.
Unscrupulous recruitment agencies are mostly responsible for the disputes between workers and employers, he said.
He was echoing a common fact widely reported by the UAE media that the problems of workers in the UAE originate from the recruitment process in their home country. Many recruitment agents charge higher recruitment fees than legally permitted.
Many prospective employees in Asian countries take loans from money sharks at exorbitant interest rates to pay that fee as they are lured by the exaggerated salary figures in the labour contracts offered by the agents.
It is the beginning of ‘contract substitution’ as the agents give a different contract with less salary and different terms when they reach the UAE. Most labour disputes originate from this contract substitution.
The Sri Lankan ambassador said the embassy started holding agents responsible for solving the labour disputes. He said his labour welfare officer, Hemantha Kahawalage, received enormous support from the UAE authorities in Abu Dhabi to take action against unscrupulous agents.
There are about 74 registered recruitment agencies in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain recruiting labourers and housemaids from Sri Lanka and many of them are operating professionally without any cause for complaint, Kahawalage said.
However, a few agencies cause most of the problems so 11 recruitment agencies based in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain were blacklisted during the past three years by the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment in Colombo on recommendations made by the embassy, he said.
The blacklisting is temporary in nature and when they sort out the complaints against them, this will be lifted on strict conditions, the labour welfare officer said. He said only one agency was blacklisted permanently.
Once blacklisted they cannot carry out any recruitment operations from Sri Lanka , he said.
The action against a few of them alerted others to be careful in their dealings which resulted in overall improvement in the recruitment process, he said.