Travel enthusiasts and visitors often cite Dubai as the most dazzling city in the Middle East. Yet amidst all the glamor and luxury in the United Arab Emirates, migrant workers face immense wage inequality and abuse. One of the largest populations of migrant workers hails from the Philippines. Filipino laborers undertake a variety of service jobs in domestic work and hospitality, both of which are vital sectors of the Emirates economy. Yet despite their integral role in the financial stability of the Emirates, Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) struggle with a lack of job security and often have no choice but to return home. The economic hardships of COVID-19 have only exacerbated their struggle.
UAE Migrant Demographics
As of 2019, immigrants comprise nearly 90% of the United Arab Emirates’ total population. This is largely because Dubai offers a variety of policies to attract global businesses and international professionals. For example, Dubai established 30 tax-free regions of the city for companies to operate free from restrictions. The Kafala Sponsorship System allows workers from around the world to more easily access job opportunities in the Emirates, but this program has also created conditions in which migrant workers face increased vulnerability and potential risks.
The United Arab Emirates operates as a mixed free economy. Although oil sales comprise the majority of its income, the UAE has branched out into the vacation industry as well as the automation and telecommunications sectors. The expansion of economic sectors such as hospitality, development and trade in the United Arab Emirates have made employment more accessible for blue-collar migrants. The Filipino government in particular has supported labor migration for its citizens, with the Labor Code of the Philippines promoting protections for OFWs. Currently, over 2 million Filipino migrant workers are in the Middle East.
In recent years, the severe maltreatment of Filipino workers in the United Arab Emirates has forced the Department of Foreign Affairs in the Philippines to repatriate thousands of its citizens. Several of these individuals suffered abuse from their Dubai employers or were victims of human trafficking.
Household workers, who are usually female, make up 10% of Filipino migrant workers. Among female Filipino domestic workers, sexual abuse and mistreatment are unfortunately quite common. Due to the vulnerable financial and legal status of female Filipino domestic workers, this particular segment of migrant workers often experiences abuse. The Filipino government responded to this by repatriating such female workers from the United Arab Emirates.
Solutions for Overseas Filipino Workers
The Philippines Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) advocates for OFWs’ rights and addresses the concerns of the transnational community. The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) provides programs for migrant workers and aims to prevent potential abuse.
Filipino migrants in economically valuable positions can effectively produce a change for their community. Educated Filipino migrants make up over half of the Filipino migrant population in the United Arab Emirates. As such, they are economically essential to the country’s labor force. Approximately 47% of Filipinos have climbed the ladder to higher positions. These individuals are paving the way for a new rank of Filipino professionals to represent the OFW community.
Generous Filipino residents within the UAE work tirelessly to assist their fellow community members throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to the service of caring individuals such as Dela Peña, unemployed Filipino workers still have resources to survive through the coronavirus pandemic and access to food through Dela Peña’s program, Ayuda.
Points of Resolution
Leaders of the United Arab Emirates often overlook the impact that OFWs have upon its economy. However, migrant workers have been pivotal to the growth and industry of Dubai and the nation as a whole. With this in mind, the UAE will hopefully recognize the importance of the OFWs and establish laws to uphold their rights. Supporting and encouraging the Overseas Filipino Workers in their endeavors will not only erase the need for their repatriation back to the Philippines but will further strengthen the economy of the migrants’ new home.
– Luna Khalil