Saudi boss forced Filipina maid to drink bleach, Manila claims

Saudi boss forced Filipina maid to drink bleach, Manila claims
In the latest incident of mistreatment of Filipino workers in the Middle East, a Saudi boss allegedly forced her maid to drink bleach, Manila said.
3 min read
16 April, 2018
Duterte ordered maids back from Kuwait after the killing of a maid [File Photo: Getty]
A Philippine domestic worker has been hospitalised in Saudi Arabia after her employer allegedly forced her to drink household bleach, Manila's foreign ministry said on Monday.

Agnes Mancilla underwent emergency abdominal surgery after she was taken, unconscious, to a hospital in Saudi's southwestern Jizan city on April 2, the ministry said.

"We are working closely with authorities in Jizan to make sure that justice will be given to Agnes Mancilla," a statement said.

The victim is in "serious but stable condition" in hospital and Saudi police have arrested her female employer, who has not been named, it added.

Mancilla had worked in Saudi Arabia since 2016 "but was repeatedly physically abused by her lady employer" who also failed to pay her salary, the statement said, citing Edgar Badajos, the Philippine consul in the Saudi city of Jeddah.

The report is the latest incident of alleged mistreatment of Filipino workers in the Middle East.

In February, allegations of abuse of domestic workers caused a diplomatic fallout between the Philippines and Kuwait.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte lashed out at Kuwait, where the body of murdered Filipina maid, 29-year-old Joanna Demafelis, was found in a freezer, bearing signs of torture. 

He banned Filipinos from going to work in the Gulf state, one of several Middle East countries that host, in total, more than two million Filipino workers.

Duterte claimed that Arab employers routinely rape their Filipina workers, force them to work 21 hours a day, and feed them scraps.

In the aftermath of the incident, Kuwait said it would recruit Ethiopian nationals to make up for a "deficit" in domestic workers.

"We aim to open the door to the recruitment of Ethiopian workers to fill the deficit of domestic servants and reduce prices," General Talal Al-Maarifi, head of Kuwait's General Department of Residency Affairs, told AFP.

But last week Duterte said Kuwait had agreed to his demands to improve the working conditions of Filipinos, following negotiations between the two countries on a labour accord.

One of his key demands is that Filipino workers be allowed to keep their mobile phones and passports - which can be confiscated by employers under current conditions.

Duterte said he would visit Kuwait to witness the signing of the agreement, without giving an exact date.

In March 2017, Kuwaiti police detained a woman for filming her Ethiopian maid falling from the seventh floor without trying to rescue her, an incident which grabbed international headlines.

The 12-second video showed the maid hanging outside the building, with one hand tightly gripping the window frame, as she begs for help. 

Rights groups have voiced alarm over the plight of workers in the Gulf and other Arab countries, where migrant labour is regulated under a system known as "kafala". 

The Middle East's Gulf region has an estimated 2.4 million migrant domestic workers, the majority from Asia and Africa. They fall under the kafala ("visa sponsorship") system, forbidding them to leave or change employers without their initial employer's consent.

If they do, they can be arrested and punished for "absconding" with fines, detention and deportation.

The isolating and harsh working conditions often, though not always, lead to workers being treated as property of their employers – leaving the worker vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

Also in the Gulf region, rape victims can face charges of zina – "sexual relations outside of marriage" – once they report the crime.