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Philippine vice-president to visit UAE

posted on 28/02/2011: 877 views

When the Philippine vice president arrives in the capital to meet with UAE officials this week he will be seeking greater protection for Filipino migrant workers.

Jejomar Binay is due to arrive on Thursday as part of a tour of the region to monitor his government's evacuation of Filipino workers in Libya and the safety and well-being of his countrymen in Bahrain and Yemen. The vice president also intends to look into working conditions in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE in his capacity as the presidential adviser on Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs).

"The vice president is looking forward to the two countries working together in promoting the welfare and increasing the level of protection for OFWs ," Joey Salgado, the spokesman for Mr Binay, said. "It would be in the interest of both the Philippines and the UAE."

In a statement before departing for Kuwait on Friday, Mr Binay said: "I intend to pursue whatever arrangements are necessary and possible to improve the general working conditions and status of our global workers in the Middle East, especially those working as domestics, and specifically those involved in cases needing immediate official help."

The embassy has made arrangements for Mr Binay to meet with two UAE officials on Thursdayfor bilateral talks on labour, agriculture, investments, trade and other issues of mutual interest. "He is confident that the two countries could further explore new ways of enhancing economic cooperation," Mr Salgado said. "In line with the Emirates' programmes in the area of food security, the vice-president hopes that the UAE would consider agricultural investments in the Philippines and in the halal industry."

During the two-day visit the vice president hopes to raise the possibility of a partnership between the two countries in the area of renewable energy, particularly in accessing the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development to finance projects in the southern Philippines.

"The Philippines has one of the world's largest geothermal reserves and the UAE might be interested in investing in this sector," Mr Salgado said.

John Leonard Monterona, the Middle East co-ordinator for Migrante, a migrant rights group, said he expects the vice president to look into the plight of domestic helpers and construction workers who are the "most vulnerable to abuse, maltreatment and labour malpractices". "We expect changes to happen after his visit," he said. "He will definitely take action on the cases, including the shortage of staff at embassies."

Each day brings about seven new worker complaints into Migrante chapters in Arab countries, he said. Mr Binay will hold a dialogue with Filipino community groups in Abu Dhabi on Thursday, and in Dubai the next day.

"OFWs have contributed to the economic stability of the Philippines," Mr Salgado said. "And the vice president is proud that our OFWs have also contributed to the development and progress of the UAE."

There are nearly 610,000 Filipinos in the UAE, according to latest figures provided by the Commission on Filipinos Overseas in Manila. The UAE is the second-most popular destination - after Saudi Arabia - with Filipino migrant workers.

While in the UAE, he will personally check on dozens of Filipinas staying at the Filipino Workers Resource Centre, a women's shelter run by labour and welfare officials, in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Those at the shelter have fled their employers' homes after complaining of various forms of mistreatment.

"There is no existing bilateral agreement between the Philippines and countries in the Middle East to protect the rights and welfare of household workers," said Analiza Magno Concepcion, the chairman of Filcom, the umbrella organisation of more than 90 Filipino community groups in Dubai and the northern Emirates. "They are considered servants and are not covered by the labour law. We'd like to bring this issue to our vice president's attention among other concerns."

Mrs Concepcion, 42, has been working in the Emirates for the past 22 years, said the number of housemaids fleeing their employers is rising, but it is too soon to determine why. "What is the root problem?" she said. "Is it because we have a centre? A bilateral agreement is needed to ensure they have better working conditions and their rights are protected." - The National


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