Philippine Overseas Labour Office

The great volume of labour exported by The Philippines is sometimes referred to as ‘modern-day slave trade’. Over one-fifth of the Filipino working-age population are migrant workers in other countries. The case of the Middle-East best illustrates this spider’s web of unfree labour.

The huge Philippine labour export has not only been pushed by a major shortage of jobs at home, but has also been encouraged by the government as a way of preventing the release of social pressures that would otherwise have been channelled into radical movements for political and social change internally. In 2009, some 64 per cent of the more than one million Filipino workers that went abroad left for the Middle East, most of them being women doing household service work.

When someone in the Arabian Peninsula wants to employ a maid, it happens frequently that his local Philippine recruiter finds him a young woman and promises her a wage of $400 a month, which is the minimum amount set by the Philippine government. At her departure though, the recruiter makes her sign another contract, written in Arabic, saying she will be paid only half of that amount. Upon arrival, the Gulf recruiter does provide the woman with a temporary residence permit or ‘iqama’, but the new employer takes this permit along with her passport and keeps them.

As a result, the newly arrived maid will be turned over to a family quite helplessly where she works under slave-like conditions for 18 to 20 hours a day. In addition, it is common that among the services expected of her is to minister to the sexual needs of the master of the house. Being isolated from other Filipino domestic workers and not in direct possession of her certificates and passport, she is dependent on her employer for communication with the outside world. Running away to the labour recruiter resultsin nothing more than being sold to another family and possibly ending up in worse circumstances.

If she is lucky, she might find her way to the Philippine Overseas Labour Office in the country, which operates a shelter for runaways and tries to look for reasonable solutions for both the employer and the Filipino worker in question. Nonetheless, in some cases maids desperately need to flee their houses and the only possibility for them to do so is by asking for help from POLO to assist them with get-away cars and a distraction strategy in the middle of the night. Besides those almost movie-like scenes , many Middle-Eastern family scandals have aroused around their Philippine maids. She often knows too much, and if she starts spreading her boss’ dirty sex secrets, she might really need some POLO assistance to be assured of her life…

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