By GEOFFREY BEW Published: 25th October 2007

THE Philippine government may introduce tougher laws to protect overseas workers in the Gulf from abuse, a visiting congressman said yesterday.House of Representatives Public Information Committee chairman Dr Bienvenido Abante said he was "sick and tired" of the discrimination against and mistreatment of his people.

He was speaking during a one-day visit to Bahrain as part of a two-week tour of the region.

Dr Abante said Filipinos in Bahrain and the region must get the respect they deserve from employers and their salaries and allowances should be increased to reflect their responsibilities.

Many Filipinos are not the unskilled villagers they are often seen as, but professionals willing to take on less respectable roles abroad for bigger wages, he said.

"We would like to try and address the alleged mistreatment and abuses carried out by some," Dr Abante said during a Press briefing at the Teatro Restaurant in the Dana Mall.

"We are trying to see what congress can do to help address these concerns by way of legislation."

Philippine Ambassador Eduardo Pablo Maglaya and consul general Jose de la Rosa Burgos attended the event, along with members of Bahrain's Metropolitan Bible Baptist Church.

Dr Abante, who is also vice-chairman of the House of Representatives Human Rights Committee and Bishop of the Metropolitan Bible Baptist Church in the Philippines, plans to file a resolution in parliament urging the Labour Department to change the title of domestic helpers to care givers.

He believes the move will provide a major psychological boost to women and lead to better treatment by their employers. "The title domestic helpers conjures up more of a maid or slave mentality," he said. "We want our women who are working in homes to be treated not as slaves and they ought to be treated right.

"When you see the title domestic helper, it goes right into the mind of people and in countries in Europe or in the US they are not called that.

"We would also like that to be applied in Bahrain, where Filipino women do everything (in the home)."

Dr Abante denied the government's introduction of a $400 (BD151) minimum wage for Filipina maids earlier this year had backfired, saying more action was required to protect those working abroad.

"It is time for our government to make some demands because Filipinos are good workers," he said.

"They do not come to a foreign country to be lazy or sit around. They are being called the modern heroes of the Filipino economy because they are sending so much money home."

Dr Abante accepted some expatriates were still working outside the Philippine government's minimum wage rules, but said it was up to them to not to accept lower salaries.

"We are advising our domestic helpers not to enter any of these deals illegally because we are trying to raise their living standards," he said.

"Of course, we cannot do anything if some of the Filipinos go against our laws."

geoff@gdn.com.bh

? Gulf Daily News