An abused Filipino worker who filed a case against her employers for mistreatment has been hit with a lifetime ban on working in the UAE this week on charges of 'absconding'. Under the sponsorship system migrant workers are unable to walk away from contracts- even if their employer is abusive - without facing absconding charges and risking lifetime bans from employment.
The 35-year-old maid from Caloocan City near Manila arrived in the UAE to work for her Lebanese employers on August 31, 2010. When she asked for her salary and a day off in December, her sponsors beat her and confiscated her phone to stop her from communicating with the outside world, according to this piece in The National. She managed to notify her recruitment agency via the guard in her employer's building. Ms. Yum Habana-Sabala, the managing director of the agency then turned to the police, only to learn that she cannot file a complaint on behalf of the abused maid.
The abused maid escaped her employer and is now staying at the Filipino Workers Resource Centre in Dubai. Medical examinations revealed bruises on her arms and chest. The employers responded by pressing charges for absconding, which mean that she will be unable to return to work in the UAE.
The case is a prime example of how the UAE sponsorship system criminalizes abused workers. Recent Human Rights Watch reports from Kuwait and Lebanon highlighted the same problem in those countries, which also manage their foreign labor with the sponsorship system. Abused workers who manage to escape are treated as criminals because they left their employer without permission, and rarely attempt to claim compensation because of lengthy and expensive legal proceedings.