By Hannah 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 of Filipino household service workers (HSWs) being auctioned to families that bid the most money for maids in Saudi Arabia.
De Lima, a known anti-human trafficking advocate, said she is alarmed over the allegations that recently surfaced saying the government must look into this illegal “maid auction” of overseas Filipino workers (OFW) in the Kingdom.
“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 the 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 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 practice.
The report 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.
De Lima 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 right 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 HSWs 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.
De Lima, likewise, called on the private recruitment agencies and their foreign counterparts in the Kingdom to check on the condition and location of the household workers they have deployed abroad.
“The private recruitment agencies should check on the condition of the Filipino workers they have sent abroad, especially in Saudi Arabia, to ensure that they are safe and do not fall victims to human trafficking or slavery,” she said.