A NEW push to increase protection of domestic workers has been rolled out by labour chiefs from Bahrain and across the region during a major forum in Manila, the Philippines.
They have agreed to fast-track repatriation of migrant workers, particularly women, at times of security crisis and assign government teams to closely monitor the recruitment of labourers.It comes as 19 Asian and Middle Eastern countries are taking part in the Abu Dhabi Dialogue-II (ADD-II), which is being held under the theme ‘Sustaining Regional Co-operation Towards Improved Management of Labour Mobility in Asia’, at the Sofitel Hotel in Pasay City.
Bahrain’s delegation headed by Labour Minister Jameel Humaidan, is taking part in the high-level conference, which ends today.
He will then enter talks with senior GCC officials to discuss labour and migration policies in the region.
Activists welcomed the new recommendations, saying it would help fast-track proposals made by human rights societies in Bahrain.
“Most of our recommendations to protect the rights of migrant workers are being considered or reviewed by authorities.
The laws are gradually changing and becoming labour-friendly,” said Migrant Workers Protection Society chairwoman Marietta Dias.
“We have an average of eight to 10 domestic workers housed at our shelter because of different cases such as abuse or being exploited by unscrupulous recruiting agents,” she added.
She met Labour Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) chief executive Ausamah Abdulla Al Absi yesterday to discuss the progress of new job contracts for domestic workers that stipulate their rights and duties.
The key document which is in the final stages will state conditions to recruit domestic workers that should be followed by employers and manpower agencies.
“We are ready to discuss and provide our feedback to LMRA for its unified contract for domestic workers that stipulates their rights and duties,” said Ms Dias.
However, unionists are urging authorities to make vital amendments to the country’s labour law to protect migrant workers from exploitation.
“There is no doubt in crisis situations like in Libya it is important to repatriate domestic workers,” said a General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions spokesman yesterday.
“But at the same time, we should not ignore their rights in such situations such as receiving their full settlements.
“We have always called for the protection of domestic workers, who continue to be excluded from Bahrain’s labour law.”
The ADD-II featured proposals and discussions by labour-exporting countries, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam and labour-importing countries such as Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, the UAE and Yemen. Japan, Malaysia and South Korea took part as observers.
Philippines Labour Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said during the opening of the forum that their nationals continued to face difficulties in repatriating distressed Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) amid the Arab Spring that spread across Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Syria.
He said this was due to policies adopted by these countries that require payment to be made to employers and respective governments before allowing OFWs to leave.
Meanwhile, a petition signed by hundreds of domestic workers in Bahrain would be submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council at the Universal Periodic Review of Bahrain in Geneva next month.
The Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society (BHRWS) is spearheading the initiative and will attend the meeting from May 21-25.
“Our goal has always been to ask the government to incorporate domestic workers under the labour law,” said BHRWS secretary-general Faisal Fulad .
He said more than 72,000 signatures of domestic workers of different nationalities such as India, the Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Ethiopia were collected in 2010 to call for better protection.
“Some domestic workers are paid about BD45 per month and work for more than 12 hours without proper rest,” he said.
“In others cases, they are abuse victims and escape from their employers’ homes, but their cases continue to be in courts,” Mr Fulad added.