FFW-slideshow

INTERVENTION OF THE PHILIPPINE WORKER DELEGATE TO THE COMMITTEE ON APPLICATION OF STANDARDS IN THE CASE OF SAUDI ARABIA

By: ALLAN S. MONTAÑO
President Emeritus and International Secretary
Federation of Free Workers-ITUC

 

Thank you Madam Chairperson.

My name is Allan S. Montaño, the President Emeritus and International Secretary of the Federation of Free Workers  in the Philippines.

Madam Chairperson, Saudi Arabia is a country where most Filipino workers in the Middle East are deployed, numbering around 385,000, seventy  percent (70%) of whom are professionals and technical workers, while thirty percent (30%) are low skilled workers including domestic workers. It is the top destination for Filipino nurses, Filipino teachers and IT related workers. It is the top 4 destination for Filipino domestic workers, after Hongkong, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates. Also, Saudi Arabia is top 3 in terms of remittances, after United States and Canada, in the amount of around US2Billion Dollars.

However, Madam Chairperson, when it comes to difficulties and problems, 70% of which come from the low-skilled workers, most of whom are domestic workers. Thus, even the statistics of cases filed before the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency, are from domestic workers. Common cases against employers are maltreatment, abuse, violence against women, including beating to death.

Madam Chairperson, there are over 9 million migrant workers that fill manual, clerical, and service jobs, constituting more than half the workforce in Saudi Arabia.  The kafala (sponsorship) system which ties migrant workers’ residency permits to “sponsoring” employers, whose written consent is required for workers to change employers, or exit the country. Employers abuse this power to confiscate passports, withhold wages, and force migrants to work against their will, despite these are against Saudi Arabian law. Some of these abuses have resulted to depression and eventually to suicide or daring attempts to escape that have led to deaths.  While in April, the Labor Ministry of Saudi Arabia proposed to abolish the kafala system by transferring immigration sponsorship to newly created recruitment and placement agencies, but the change had not taken effect yet as of this writing.

Likewise, Madam Chairperson, while  Saudi Arabia opted to develop separate legal provisions specific to domestic workers, either through laws or regulations, however, none of these provisions have been enacted to date. For instance, while Saudi Arabia’s 2006 Labour Law specifically excludes domestic workers, it provides that the Ministry of Labour shall draft regulations for domestic workers “to govern their relations with their employers and specify the rights and duties of each party”. Draft regulations have been completed but not yet adopted.

Article 8 of the country's Basic Law declares equality for all: "Government in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is based on the premise of justice, consultation, and equality in accordance with the Islamic Shari'ah." The Islamic law in Saudi Arabia, however, does not offer equality to women.  It is a hierarchical society that privileges notables and the well connected over ordinary citizens and outsiders. It also favors a hierarchical family model that values obedience, with the younger deferring to the older and women deferring to men. Consequently, the biases built into the laws of the kingdom and into their application reflect the biases in both society and scripture. This is quite visible in the varying treatment of foreigners in Saudi Arabia, where workers are treated differently depending on their country of origin.

Specifically, Madam Chairperson, no less than the Committee on Overseas Workers’ Affairs (COWA) of the Philippine House of Representatives, found in its investigation that, among professionals, there is also discrimination in wage and other social security benefits in Saudi Arabia. Filipino nurses in the King Faisal Hospital, for instance, said that salary grades in there are determined by one's passport. For Filipinos, the entry level monthly salary ranges from SR3,500 to 5,000. However, US passport-holders' entry level salary is SR14,000.  There are very few cases where a Philippine passport holder with Western qualifications receives the same salary grade as US or European passport holders. This is plain and classic example of discrimination in wages, but which practice of wage discrimination apparently is the norm in Saudi Arabia which is violative of Convention 111.

Madam Chairperson, we just hope that the recently signed bilateral agreement between Philippine Government and Saudi Arabia on migrant domestic workers, just last May 2013, as well as the agreement entered into last year on standard employment contract governing the employment of Filipino household service workers, will lead Saudi Arabia to adopt a national law or regulations for domestic workers, which would hopefully put an end to harassments, violence, and discrimination among foreign workers, specially the domestic workers.

Finally, it can be recalled Madam Chairperson, that this Committee has asks the Government of Saudi Arabia “to continue to provide information on the steps taken to bring an end to the sponsorship system, both in law and in practice”. It also has asks the same government “to provide information on the specific recommendations of the Advisory Council for Women’s Work with respect to defining and prohibiting sexual harassment”, which to date, it failed.

Thank you for your attention.

FREE WORKERS

FREE WORKERS

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