By Philip Tubeza
Philippine Daily Inquirer First Posted 08:04:00 03/29/2011
MANILA, Philippines—Saudi Arabia said it would stop the processing of employment contracts for Filipinos household service workers (HSWs) until further notice, Carlos Cao Jr., Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) chief, said Monday.
The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs relayed this information in a note verbale to the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh on March 12.
According to recruitment industry officials, the ban was connected to the new Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act which requires prior to deployment a Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) certification that the rights of domestic helpers would be adequately protected.
“There was a note verbale from the Saudi Foreign Ministry saying that they will no longer cooperate in the verification of contracts,” Cao said in an interview.
The government “is studying the matter very carefully” because it does not want the issue to affect an estimated 1.5 million overseas Filipino workers in the kingdom, he said.
“We will respond to the note verbale and there is now an immediate policy study being done. It is a very sensitive matter. We do not want to add fuel to the fire,” he added.
Cao said that as of November 2010, there were 80,656 Filipino HSWs with an estimated 9,000 Filipino domestics deployed in Saudi Arabia last year.
He said officials from the DFA and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) were meeting to come out with a “unified position” on how to reply to the note verbale.
“We can already sense that there is a certain degree of slowdown in the deployment of HSWs but as a matter of policy, we are still processing this,” Cao said.
A labor official, who requested anonymity, said the Saudi ban might have been caused by the need for DFA certification on rights protection.
Under the new Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act, OFWs can be sent only to countries where their rights are protected.
The DFA is tasked to certify which countries meet this criteria. This certification will then have to be approved by the POEA governing board.
Cao said the DFA had issued a certification for Saudi Arabia but he declined to say if this included domestic helpers, adding only that POEA was asking for “further clarification” from the DFA.
Recruitment industry consultant Emmanuel Geslani said the certification issue was one of the reasons behind the Saudi ban.