De Lima urges probe into alleged maid auctions in Saudi Arabia


By Macon Araneta | FilAm Star Correspondent

Sen. Leila de Lima raised alarm over the alleged auction of Filipino household service workers (HSWs) to families that bid the most money for maids in Saudi Arabia.

De Lima, a known anti-human trafficking advocate, said the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) should investigate this illegal “maid auction” of overseas Filipino workers in the Kingdom.

She urged DFA and DOLE to 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.” said the Senator detained over drug charges.

She noted that 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 at home.

OFWs based in Riyadh, Dammam and Jeddah expressed alarm over the practice of some employers in Saudi Arabia who, according to them, have been trading their Filipino HSWs to highest-bidding foreign employers for several years now.

A Riyadh-based OFW was quoted in the news that she escaped from her Saudi employer after learning that she had been sold to another employer in Damman for 24,000 riyals (about U.S. $6,400). She said there are many other victims of such practice.

The agreement entailed, among others, that Saudi Arabia should be responsible for the authenticity of the employment contract of HRWs and the settlement of labor contract violation cases.

It also recognized the right of workers to paid vacation, non-withholding of passports and work permits, free communication, and humane treatment.

The opposition senator also called on the private recruitment agency 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.

In August 2016, De Lima filed Senate Bill No. 961, redefining the crime of illegal recruitment committed by a syndicate as a group of three or more persons formed to carry out illegal deployment of Filipino workers abroad.

“Illegal recruitment is a menace to the society. It is one of the most detestable crimes a Filipino can commit to another Filipino, a crime that has brought about sufferings to thousands of poor and innocent victims and their families,” she said.

“Their victims dreamed of landing high paying jobs abroad, instead find themselves financially and emotionally distressed. Worse, many of them fell into the hand of traffickers or landed in jail as a consequence,” she added.

It was through the efforts of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking which De Lima then chaired as justice secretary when the Philippines was upgraded to Tier 1 status, in recognition of its compliance with global standards.