Doha’s Filipino community work through labour issues

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Philippine President Benigno Aquino III meets Qatar’s ruler Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani

Down the street from Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art in a tightly knit souq (commercial quarter) jammed with cars and pedestrians tangled in the city’s growing congestion, a string of businesses serving Asian comforts usher in Filipinos with familiar foodstuffs and fast food restaurants redolent of faraway Boracay.

There are an estimated 200,000 Filipinos working in Qatar, according to the Philippine Embassy, or roughly 10 per cent of the country’s entire population. The second largest group of foreign workers in Qatar after Indians, Filipinos commonly find jobs as construction workers, domestic helpers or in the hospitality and tourism industry.

However, this slice of the Southeast Asian diaspora is more frequently finding paths into sales and management positions as family-supported communities grow and descendents of migrants form second generations on the thumb-shaped peninsula.

“Filipinos are now working in higher level positions such as engineers, managers and others,” Sitti Berkis Hamja, Banquet Sales Executive under the General Manager at Ezdan Hotel and Suites, told Inside Investor.

“The fastest growing positions [for Filipinos] are nurses, secretaries, front desk workers/receptionists and engineers,” she added.

The Philippines’ significant contribution to Qatar’s work force led the ministry of labour to reserve 121,924 work permits for “exclusively for Filipinos” in 2009. Some 65 per cent of construction workers being hired to build the New Doha International Airport, located five kilometers east of the current airport, hail from the Philippines.

Yet while cultural concessions have been made, with the emir of Qatar allowing five church denominations to open up in 2008, the estimated 2 million Filipinos working overseas in the Middle East (mostly in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, followed by Qatar) confront wage discrimination and unfair working conditions.

When Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani made his first-ever visit to the Philippines earlier this year, local government officials urged President Benigno Aquino III to forge a labour agreement to “safeguard the interests and welfare of overseas Filipino workers.”

A ban on Filipinos being employed as domestic workers in Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE was considered last year by the Department of Foreigner Affairs due to the countries’ non-compliance with Philippine labour laws, however no action was ever taken.

“Apart from receiving physical abuse, [domestic workers] are given multiple heavy tasks and a salary of less than 1,000 Qatari riyals a month,” Hamja said. “Some housemaids try to escape from their boss to look for someone who can help and treat them like a human.”

Qatar has drafted new laws that would require housemaids to sign contracts and entitle them to free housing and food as well as breaks during eight-hour workdays, but plans have also been announced to start seeking domestic workers from more untapped workers, such as Kenya, China and Nepal, effectively dodging issues with the Philippines.

The effects of a ban on Filipino household service workers in Qatar would be dramatic, as a large portion of the 8 to 11 million Filipino workers overseas take up positions as maids.

In 2010, 96,583 Filipinos were employed as household service workers abroad, with Hong Kong being the top destination, Arabian Business reported.

“Kuwait ranked second with 21,554 Filipino domestic workers followed by UAE with 13,184, and Qatar fifth with 9,937, according to an industry source,” the report noted.

Saudi Arabia eventually banned domestic workers from the Philippines and Indonesia following controversial incidents.

This ban combined with a scheme by the Kingdom to replace millions of expatriate workers with Saudi nationals will continue to make Qatar an appealing and viable option for overseas workers in the Middle East.

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III meets Qatar’s ruler Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani

Down the street from Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art in a tightly knit souq (commercial quarter) jammed with cars and pedestrians tangled in the city’s growing congestion, a string of businesses serving Asian comforts usher in Filipinos with familiar foodstuffs and fast food restaurants redolent of faraway Boracay.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III meets Qatar’s ruler Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani

Down the street from Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art in a tightly knit souq (commercial quarter) jammed with cars and pedestrians tangled in the city’s growing congestion, a string of businesses serving Asian comforts usher in Filipinos with familiar foodstuffs and fast food restaurants redolent of faraway Boracay.

There are an estimated 200,000 Filipinos working in Qatar, according to the Philippine Embassy, or roughly 10 per cent of the country’s entire population. The second largest group of foreign workers in Qatar after Indians, Filipinos commonly find jobs as construction workers, domestic helpers or in the hospitality and tourism industry.

However, this slice of the Southeast Asian diaspora is more frequently finding paths into sales and management positions as family-supported communities grow and descendents of migrants form second generations on the thumb-shaped peninsula.

“Filipinos are now working in higher level positions such as engineers, managers and others,” Sitti Berkis Hamja, Banquet Sales Executive under the General Manager at Ezdan Hotel and Suites, told Inside Investor.

“The fastest growing positions [for Filipinos] are nurses, secretaries, front desk workers/receptionists and engineers,” she added.

The Philippines’ significant contribution to Qatar’s work force led the ministry of labour to reserve 121,924 work permits for “exclusively for Filipinos” in 2009. Some 65 per cent of construction workers being hired to build the New Doha International Airport, located five kilometers east of the current airport, hail from the Philippines.

Yet while cultural concessions have been made, with the emir of Qatar allowing five church denominations to open up in 2008, the estimated 2 million Filipinos working overseas in the Middle East (mostly in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, followed by Qatar) confront wage discrimination and unfair working conditions.

When Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani made his first-ever visit to the Philippines earlier this year, local government officials urged President Benigno Aquino III to forge a labour agreement to “safeguard the interests and welfare of overseas Filipino workers.”

A ban on Filipinos being employed as domestic workers in Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE was considered last year by the Department of Foreigner Affairs due to the countries’ non-compliance with Philippine labour laws, however no action was ever taken.

“Apart from receiving physical abuse, [domestic workers] are given multiple heavy tasks and a salary of less than 1,000 Qatari riyals a month,” Hamja said. “Some housemaids try to escape from their boss to look for someone who can help and treat them like a human.”

Qatar has drafted new laws that would require housemaids to sign contracts and entitle them to free housing and food as well as breaks during eight-hour workdays, but plans have also been announced to start seeking domestic workers from more untapped workers, such as Kenya, China and Nepal, effectively dodging issues with the Philippines.

The effects of a ban on Filipino household service workers in Qatar would be dramatic, as a large portion of the 8 to 11 million Filipino workers overseas take up positions as maids.

In 2010, 96,583 Filipinos were employed as household service workers abroad, with Hong Kong being the top destination, Arabian Business reported.

“Kuwait ranked second with 21,554 Filipino domestic workers followed by UAE with 13,184, and Qatar fifth with 9,937, according to an industry source,” the report noted.

Saudi Arabia eventually banned domestic workers from the Philippines and Indonesia following controversial incidents.

This ban combined with a scheme by the Kingdom to replace millions of expatriate workers with Saudi nationals will continue to make Qatar an appealing and viable option for overseas workers in the Middle East.

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