New Philippine labour Attache, Ofelia B. Domingo addressing media in Dubai. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: Discussions on sending Filipino maids to the UAE are still ongoing, contrary to local media reports that said the Philippines would soon resume allowing maids to be recruited from the country, an official said on Tuesday.

Philippine Labour Attache Ofelia Domingo on Tuesday denied reports published in some newspapers in the UAE that the Philippines is “set to lift a ban on Filipino domestic workers to the UAE in the next few days”.

“Currently, there are no changes in the Philippine government’s position in sending household service workers (HSWs) to the UAE. This means that we have not resumed verification of contracts of HSWs,” Domingo told Gulf News, adding that there is no deployment ban.

Employers in the UAE have not been able to directly hire maids from the Philippines since June 2014 because of the conflicting recruitment rules in the UAE and labour-sending countries like the Philippines.

The issue surfaced when the UAE Ministry of Interior introduced a unified contract for domestic workers that led to the suspension of various embassies’ role in verifying and attesting contracts, including the Philippines.

Philippine domestic laws, however, dictate that labour agencies should verify and record all contracts of HSWs to protect them. Only then can they be deployed from the Philippines.

To resolve this issue, the UAE and Philippine labour officials have since held a series of bilateral talks.

Domingo clarified that since the Philippines just recently welcomed a new administration under the leadership of President Rodrigo Duterte, the newly appointed Labour Secretary Silvestre Bello III has yet to be briefed on the ongoing negotiations on this matter.

“I cannot comment on the bilateral talks because it is still ongoing. Currently, we are just waiting for the new labour policy to be announced by Secretary Bello.”

As the shortage for Filipina housemaids continues, some employers resort to bringing in Filipinas on tourist visas. They then apply for a servant visa once the Filipina arrives in the UAE. But this has proven costly to many.

“We’ve tried several times to hire directly from the Philippines since June 2014 but they were offloaded numerous times by Immigration officials in Manila. We have so far spent more than Dh20,000 for air tickets alone on getting housemaids,” N.L. a Filipino father of three, said.

“What can we do? We need extra help. We have two kids plus a newborn and both of us — my wife and I — are working. We want the kids to be with us here in Dubai,” he added.

Based on Philippine laws, immigration officials may not allow Filipino tourist visa holders from leaving the country if they suspect that these tourists are actually “tourist-workers” or those who intend to look for employment abroad and are not real tourists. Stricter rules are enforced for those who are suspected to be planning to work as housemaids.

But despite the stringent screening process, some women still manage to reach the UAE and work as domestic workers. But many of them end up seeking assistance from the Philippine labour office due to labour disputes with their employers, including maltreatment, long working hours, and non-payment of wages.

In 2011, a similar maid shortage happened in Saudi Arabia when Filipina maids were banned in the kingdom following a disagreement over their monthly wages that are standardised by Philippine laws at $400 (Dh1,470), among other things.

The ban was lifted in October 2012 and Saudi Arabia and the Philippines signed a historic agreement resolving the issue in 2013.