Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Gulf states threaten to ban Filipino workers

05/31/2007 | 10:08 PM

The Gulf states -- Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman – may no longer accept Filipino workers unless the Philippine government take steps to clarify its policy imposing $13 daily penalty on foreign employers who would not pay their workers on time and at a minimum of $400 a month.

The Committee for Importing Foreign Workers of the Gulf Cooperation Council(GCC) unanimously agreed in a meeting on Thursday to stop importing Filipinos until Philippine labor laws are clarified, Dylan Bowman of Kuwait New Agency reported.

GCC, also known as the Cooperation Council of the Arab States in the Gulf, is a trade bloc involving six Arab Gulf states with many economic and social objectives, including the formulation of similar regulations in various fields such as economy, finance, trade, customs, tourism, legislation, and administration.

The report acknowledged that the Philippine government raised the minimum salary of its workers overseas was intended to improve the standard of living of its citizens.

“Participants agreed to submit this recommendation [to stop importing Filipinos] to the decision-makers in the GCC and expressed hope that this recommendation would be implemented as soon as possible," Abdel-Aziz Al-Ali, head of Kuwait's domestic labor offices, told the Kuwait News Agency.

“We understand the important international implications of this issue and we are dealing with it accordingly," Al-Ali said.

Based on POEA data, the six GCC member-states employ 435, 190 Filipinos as of December-2006, and this is broken down into: Saudi Arabia – 223, 459; UAE – 99, 212; Kuwait – 47, 917; Qatar – 45, 795; Bahrain – 11, 736; and Oman – 7, 071.
Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, and Qatar are among the top 10 popular destinations of OFWs.

The new regulations issued by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) partially took effect on December 15, 2006, was fully implemented beginning March 1, 2007 pegged the minimum salary for Filipino domestic workers, including stay-in care givers, at $400, up from $200.

Foreign employers are also required to sign a declaration stipulating they would pay a fine of around $13 a day if they do not pay their Filipino workers on time, and at the prescribed rate spelled out in the labor contract.

The minimum salary regulations are not binding on any of the GCC’s six member states, but if employers do not agree to them then the Filipino government will not process their staff’s contracts, Kuwait News Agency said.

Asaad Derbas, head of the Kuwaiti delegation to the meeting of the GCC Committee, said the decision to stop importing Filipinos was taken because the Philippine government “used the issue as a political tool in its recent general election."

He said the issue had a negative impact on the countries importing Filipino workers. - GMANews.TV

UAE gives illegal workers 90 days to regularize stay or leave

06/05/2007 | 04:08 PM

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After Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates has also tightened its rules on illegal workers by declaring a three-month amnesty beginning June 4 to allow them to regularize their status or leave the country without paying heavy penalties or being jailed.

Philippine Ambassador to the UAE Libran Cabactulan said the embassy was encouraging the illegal Filipinos working in the Gulf state to come out and benefit from the amnesty. The offer, he said, is “with good intentions."

Consul General Antonio Curameng in Dubai said he is convening a meeting with consulate officials, the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) to discuss arrangements, draft necessary guidelines and facilitate the repatriation of the illegal workers.

Curameng said the consulate is just awaiting official communication from UAE authorities before disseminating the information to the Filipino community.

Undocumented foreign workers in the UAE, including Filipinos, are expected to flock to their embassies and consulates following the decision of the UAE Cabinet to adopt the amnesty program.

Saudi Arabia has implemented a two-month amnesty for illegal workers that ended May 31. Kuwait has also followed suit.

Corollary to the amnesty program, the UAE Ministry of Justice was also reported to be preparing strict rules that would impose heavy fines on people who shelter illegal immigrants or hire absconding workers.

After the UAE government’s announcement of three-month amnesty for illegal residents, airlines are gearing up to meet the possible rush on outbound flights from Dubai.

During the last general amnesty in UAE from January 1 to June 30, 2003, nearly 100,000 illegal residents had benefited, according to a report in Khaleej Times.

UAE ranks second to Saudi Arabia

Laborers to Be Informed of Their Rights Through HRC Pamphlets

Raid Qusti, Arab News

RIYADH, 6 June 2007 — The government-funded Human Rights Commission (HRC) announced here yesterday that it was working with the Labor Ministry to publish pamphlets that would inform laborers of their rights under Saudi law.

The aim of the pamphlet is to address concerns that laborers are unaware of the legal mechanisms that are afforded to them in the Kingdom. The pamphlet also aims to spread awareness among employers, informing them of penalties for breaking labor laws and violating workers’ rights.

“We are working hard on the issue with the Labor Ministry,” said Muhammad Al-Khunaizan, HRC board member.

The official did not mention when the pamphlets would be released, but stated that they were being processed.

The Saudi labor sector has seen numerous violations of guest-worker rights, including non-payment of salaries for months or failure of sponsors to provide room and board as agreed upon.

A report published by the National Society for Human Rights, another rights body in the Kingdom, suggested that the sponsorship law in the Kingdom be eradicated altogether and the government should step in to fill the role currently held by individual Saudi sponsors.

In another development, HRC officials requested the US State Department to publish a booklet or pamphlet printed in Arabic to be given to all Saudi travelers, including students, to the United States.

According to HRC officials, the aim of the proposed pamphlet is to “specify the rights of Saudi travelers that would avoid harassment.”

The request was made to Erica Barks-Ruggles, deputy assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor. The US official and her accompanying delegation met Turki Al-Sudairi, president of HRC, and several members of the board. This is her fourth visit to the Kingdom and her second this year.

Board members also brought to the attention of the visiting official the matter of a Saudi student, Mishaal Al-Rabeah, whose visa was canceled by US immigration authorities on arrival in the US recently.

“This is just one of the problems Saudi students face when arriving in the United States. The visa, issued by the US Embassy in Riyadh, was canceled. The error was not on his part,” a board member told the US official.

The US official said she was not aware of the incident but would investigate.
HRC also announced that Saudi women would be appointed for the first time in its next board reshuffle after three years.

“God willing, the next board will have Saudi women,” said Al-Sudairi. “We are currently studying it. And there is a big possibility that it will take place.”
He said that as with all new board members, the appointment would come from Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah.

The current board consists of 24 members — 18 full-time members and six part-time members. The president is appointed by the king and has a rank of minister.

Al-Sudairi also said that a Saudi woman, a former civil service employee, was hired by HRC to deal with issues related to women in Riyadh.

He said part of HRC’s support of Saudi women has recently included the establishment of two women’s sections in HRC offices in the Eastern Province.

Among the issues discussed at the meeting between the HRC and the US officials were ways to identify areas of cooperation in the judicial system and commercial sector.
The US delegation evinced keen interest in the progress of HRC regarding its human rights awareness campaigns targeted at the people living in the Kingdom. HRC officials, on their part, said that they were doing so “gradually” in the Kingdom, bearing in mind the conservative nature of its people and trying carefully not to make moves that would backfire.

The US officials said they were seeking to specify common areas of cooperation in the judicial system.

They specified their interest in the development of commercial law in Saudi Arabia, especially after the Kingdom joined the World Trade Organization. They also proposed that a curriculum be established in Saudi universities that would educate students on commercial law.

HRC officials and the US delegation also discussed the subject of human trafficking