By Hannah L. Torregoza
Detained Senator Leila de Lima on Thursday urged the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to look into reports that Filipino household service workers (HSWs) in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) are being auctioned to families bidding the most money for a maid.
De Lima, a known anti-human trafficking advocate, said she is alarmed over allegations that illegal “maid auctions” of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are being done in KSA.
“The Filipino workers abroad, notably the most vulnerable household service workers, should be given guaranteed protection — especially from degrading practice and abusive employers — while they work hard to support their families here,” De Lima said in a statement.
The senator said OFWs based in Riyadh, Dammam, and Jeddah have raised an alarm over the practice of some employers in Saudi Arabia.
According to them, De Lima said these employers have been trading their Filipino household workers to highest-bidding foreign employers for several years now.
De Lima cited a news report of a Riyadh-based OFW who was quoted as saying that she escaped from her Saudi employer after learning that she had been sold to another employer in Damman for 24,000 riyals. She said there are many other victims of such a practice.
The report cited by De Lima came on the heels of the Duterte government’s move to impose a labor deployment ban to Kuwait amid reports of OFWs being maltreated and abused by their employers.
The senator said the DFA and DOLE must verify the reported auction of Filipino HSWs and test the effectivity of the 2013 bilateral labor agreement with Saudi Arabia, which reinforces the Standard Employment Contract providing enough protection for HSWs.
“We may need to review the agreement which we entered with Saudi Arabia five years ago to check whether Filipino HSWs are properly accorded their rights and are not subjected to modern-day auctions, as if they are mere commodities?” she asked.
She said the agreement entails, among others, that Saudi Arabia be responsible for the authenticity of the employment contract of HRWs and the settlement of labor contract violation cases.
The labor agreement also recognizes the right of workers to paid vacation, non-withholding of passports and work permits, free communication, and humane treatment.