DUBAI - Some Filipino housemaids suffer “virtual slavery” at the hands of their employers in Saudi Arabia, a senior Philippine politician has said following a fact-finding mission to the kingdom, local daily Arab News reported.
Rep. Walden Bello and other lawmakers on the Philippine Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs (COWA) toured shelters for distressed migrant workers operated by their government and held talks with officials, according to the newspaper.
“The testimonies of the women in the shelters revealed in many cases a situation of virtual slavery,” Bello, chair of the COWA, was quoted as saying.
“A working day of 18 to 22 hours, constant threat of sexual abuse from employers the women called ‘maniacs’, and beatings, sometimes with the use of hot irons, by the wives of employers.”
Bello also said some Filipinos were being forced to sign a second contract upon arrival in Saudi Arabia with a salary significantly below the Philippine-government mandated minimum wage of 1,500 riyals ($400) per month, Arab News reported.
“The trip also revealed collusion between unscrupulous recruitment agencies in Manila and their counterparts in Saudi Arabia that result in household workers being paid significantly less than they agreed to before leaving the Philippines,” Bello was quoted as saying.
Bello said the Philippine Overseas Labour Offices (POLO) had rescued “scores” of Filipino women from oppressive employers, Arab News reported, adding that most of those in the shelters were victims of violence and sexual abuse.
The lawmaker’s comments come at a time when the treatment of domestic workers is under close scrutiny in Saudi Arabia following numerous cases of alleged abuse.
In the most high-profile case, 23-year-old Indonesian Sumiati Binti Salan Mustapa suffered stab wounds, burns to her scalp and broken bones at the hands of her female employer.
Gruesome images of Sumiati lying in a Medina hospital bed made the front pages of newspapers and led television newscasts in Indonesia, sparking public anger and causing a diplomatic spat between the two countries.
A Saudi court last week sentenced a woman to three years in prison for stabbing, beating and burning Sumiati, according to local newspapers.
Human rights groups have long said domestic workers face physical and financial abuse in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states due to inadequate labour laws.