Riyadh (AsiaNews) - Underpaid, exploited and often abused by their employers, Filipino domestic workers are one of the groups most at risk in Arabian countries, especially Saudi Arabia. A study published by the Committee on Workers Overseas Welfare, says that 70% of workers employed as caregivers or without a specific work qualification suffers continous physical and psychological harassment. Despite repeated calls by human rights organizations and associations in defense of immigrants, to date the Philippine government can only defend the rights of skilled workers: engineers, doctors, nurses. They are the most requested by the Saudi labor market and also the ones who have registered contracts, because employees in national hospitals, research centers or large companies. The unskilled workers who arrive in the Arabian country have no guarantee of employment, wages or protection.
With more than 10 million workers worldwide, the Philippines is the third country in the world for the number of emigrants after China and India. In 2008, over 600 thousand Filipinos have chosen to travel to the Middle East in spite of continued incidents of exploitation. For Christians, it also comes to the persecution. Mainly women are suffering: the cases of rape are commonplace and often those who suffer can not sue because their documents are seized by the employer.
Lorraine is a young 27 year old Filipina who arrived in Saudi Arabia in early 2010 to work as a domestic worker for a family of Jeddah. She said that the violence began just days after her arrival at the airport. "When my boss came to pick me - she says - he tried to touch me at once to see if I was available. In the first weeks I constantly suffered his advances which became more insistent every time I refused." In nine months of employment Lorraine was raped five times.
She said that in addition to the sexual violence she suffered all kinds of abuse: "I worked 20 hours a day without a break. The wife of my boss insulted me and beat me because I did not understand Arabic, and did not do her bidding. My lunch was a piece of bread and leftovers from the plates of the family. " After months of harassment on December 30, 2010, the young woman got in touch with the staff of the Philippines Overseas Labour Office (POLO), who reported the case to the police. After months of investigation the authorities arrested her employer. To date, the girl is hosted by POLO and must remain in Saudi Arabia until the case against the perpetrator is concluded.
In recent years, POLO and the Philippine embassy in Riyadh have collected hundreds of testimonies of young women and men tortured and abused in the workplace. The cases also involve important companies. On February 24, 89 Filipino employees of the Swayaeh cosmetics Company, launched an appeal to President Aquino to ask to be repatriated as soon as possible. In recent years they have been abused, left hungry, unpaid for over 5 months. In October, to quell a factory protest the owners called the police armed with shotguns to force workers to work.
Similar cases are seen by Indonesian employees. The relations between the two countries broke down after the decapitation of Ruyati Binti Satubi Saruna, a Indonesian migrant of 54 years, sentenced to death for murder. The Saudi authorities prosecuted the woman and sentenced her on 18 June 2011 without any consultation with the Indonesian government.
Since November 3, the government of Manila and Jakarta have been trying to reach an agreement with the Saudi Ministry of Labour to ensure migrant workers a minimum wage and protection from physical and psychological violence. Riyadh has so far responded to these requests by closing its borders to the unskilled. In recent days, the Saudi Minister for Labor has defined the demand for an increase in wages and greater protection of workers illogical, stressing that his office has already contacted the governments of other countries that have no such pretensions.