Labour chiefs from Bahrain and across the region have agreed to fast-track repatriation of migrant workers, particularly women, at times of security crisis at a major forum in Manila, the Philippines.
They also agreed to assign government teams to closely monitor the recruitment of labourers.
It comes as 19 Asian and Middle Eastern countries are taking part in the Abu Dhabi Dialogue-II (ADD-II), which is being held under the theme ‘Sustaining Regional Co-operation Towards Improved Management of Labour Mobility in Asia’, at the Sofitel Hotel in Pasay City.
Bahrain’s delegation headed by Labour Minister Jameel Humaidan, is taking part in the high-level conference, which ends today.
He will then enter talks with senior GCC officials to discuss labour and migration policies in the region.
Activists welcomed the new recommendations, saying it would help fast-track proposals made by human rights societies in Bahrain.
“Most of our recommendations to protect the rights of migrant workers are being considered or reviewed by authorities. The laws are gradually changing and becoming labour-friendly,” said Migrant Workers Protection Society chairwoman Marietta Dias.
“We have an average of eight to 10 domestic workers housed at our shelter because of different cases such as abuse or being exploited by unscrupulous recruiting agents,” she added. …
However, unionists are urging authorities to make vital amendments to the country’s labour law to protect migrant workers from exploitation.
“There is no doubt in crisis situations like in Libya it is important to repatriate domestic workers,” said a General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions spokesman yesterday.
“But at the same time, we should not ignore their rights in such situations such as receiving their full settlements. We have always called for the protection of domestic workers, who continue to be excluded from Bahrain’s labour law.”
The ADD-II featured proposals and discussions by labour-exporting countries, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam and labour-importing countries such as Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, the UAE and Yemen. Japan, Malaysia and South Korea took part as observers.
Philippines Labour Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said during the opening of the forum that their nationals continued to face difficulties in repatriating distressed Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) amid the Arab Spring that spread across Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Syria.
He said this was due to policies adopted by these countries that require payment to be made to employers and respective governments before allowing OFWs to leave.
Meanwhile, a petition signed by hundreds of domestic workers in Bahrain would be submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council at the Universal Periodic Review of Bahrain in Geneva next month.
Four years ago this month, I visited the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh while investigating mistreatment of migrant domestic workers in Saudi Arabia. It was a sobering way to spend March 8, International Women’s Day. I remember the embassy officials’ frustration both at the abuses these workers suffered and their struggles to get redress.
My interviews in the preceding months produced a grim catalogue of abuses: Haima G., 17, trafficked into domestic servitude and raped by her employer; Christina M., who climbed out a window to escape employers who had refused to pay her and threatened to kill her; and Amihan F., whose employers made her sleep on the floor and kept her hungry.
I would not have dreamed then that just a few years later, governments around the world would be making commitments to defend domestic workers’ rights. But last June, the International Labor Organization, including governments, trade unions, and employers’ organizations, adopted the ILO Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers, the first global labor standards for the estimated 50 to 100 million domestic workers worldwide.
My colleagues and I at Human Rights Watch have been investigating abuses against child domestic workers and migrant domestic workers for more than a decade. In Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, and in many other countries, domestic workers are excluded from basic labor protections guaranteed to other workers. These can include a minimum age for workers, limits to working hours and a weekly day of rest.
The Philippines played a key leadership role in developing the convention, chairing two years of negotiations. Hans Cacdac, recently appointed director of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, earned widespread praise for his skillful chairing of the final negotiations in 2011. Now the Philippines has the opportunity to be a global leader by being the first country to ratify, and therefore become legally bound by, this groundbreaking treaty.
(by Alec Baldwin)