“It pains me to see OFWs being abused—more so slaughtered by people whom they selflessly served,” Pangasinan 3rd District Rep. Rachel Arenas said. Source: STAR / Rudy Santos, file - Photo: 2023

Philippines Mulls Banning Deployment of Workers to Kuwait

A special SDG feature deploying Philippines media resources

MANILA, 24 May 2023 (IDN) — A brewing row between the Philippines and Kuwait over the treatment of Filipino migrant workers has come to the limelight here after a Kuwait Times report on 9 May said that Kuwait has suspended all work and entry visas for Filipino expats because the Philippines government allegedly violated a labour agreement between the two countries.

When the ban was announced suddenly—and confirmed by the Philippines government only on 15 May—815 Filipino workers were at the Manila international airport about to board a flight to Kuwait. Some 514 of them were due to be employed as domestic workers.

“The OFWs who arrived in Kuwait, one day after the suspension was issued, were not taken off the plane and sent back to the Philippines,” noted Philipino Star in an editorial, where they pointed out that since 2018 at least four Filipino domestic workers have been sexually abused and murdered. “Do not contact Kuwait for visa issuance” it said, adding,” Filipinos should look for work in other countries, not Kuwait where the employer is abusive and cruel”.

The Philippines government has guaranteed to provide financial assistance to those affected by the visa ban. Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Assistant Secretary Paul Cortes said in a media statement released through the Philippines Information Agency on May 15th that the affected OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) will be encompassed within the Department of Migrant Workers’ (DMW) National Reintegration Program.

The National Reintegration Program provides OFWs and their families with opportunities for accessing projects and services that would help them mitigate the social cost of migration and cushion the impact of forced repatriation due to unexpected events.

According to Cortes, the Kuwaiti government’s decision to suspend work visas solely applies to Filipino individuals who possess new entry visas or intend to enter the country for the first time for employment purposes.

Meanwhile, a senior administration lawmaker is seeking a total ban on the government’s deployment of OFWs to Kuwait due to “heinous crimes committed” on the Philippines’ migrant workers reported the Philippines Star.

Rachel Arenas, who chairs the committee on foreign affairs of the House of Representatives has argued that such a ban would be “an act of retribution” and the Philippines government should not allow such visa bans to be used as bargaining chips in the negotiations underway for a revision of the employment agreement between the two countries signed in 2018[1].

“It pains me to see OFWs being abused—more so slaughtered by people whom they selflessly served. This barbaric act against our OFWs should be condemned by humanity and the entire international community,” she was quoted by the Philippines Star.

The Philippines government issued a ban on the deployment of first-time domestic workers to Kuwait earlier this year after a Filipino domestic worker was murdered there in January.

Cortes reminded the Philippines government that the ban in deploying domestic workers to Kuwait is rooted in its deplorable history of maltreatment against OFWs, especially domestic workers. “This only happens in Kuwait, and the Kuwaiti government seems to have no teeth in implementing their laws. Our OFWs should be sent to countries that will treat them with dignity, protect their rights, and promote their welfare,” she said.

“This total deployment ban must be enforced until the Kuwaiti government sits down with our officials and agree to our demands. Until then, we should not entertain their demands and acts of intimidation,” Arenas told the Star.

Out of the total of over 270,000 OFWs deployed in Kuwait, 196,000 are household workers, while 30% work in industries such as tourism and hospitality according to Philippines government figures.

A Philippines government delegation headed by DFA Assistant Secretary for Middle East and African Affairs Mardomel Melicor which also includes other government officials involved in migrant issues, was in Kuwait last week to negotiate a new employment agreement. There is no official statement on its outcome.

An issue of contention between the two governments is the ‘Shelters for Overseas Filipino Workers’ that is administered by the Philippines embassy in Kuwait. The shelters help Filipino workers who are fleeing from abusive employers. But Kuwaiti officials have accused embassy staff of “smuggling maids unlawfully” to the country.

“We know that they have an issue over that because that’s what they’ve been telling us for a while now. That’s why we expect it to be among the things we will discuss,” Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Eduardo de Vega told Radio Super Radyo DzBB.

Under the Philippines Migrant Workers And Overseas Filipinos Act Of 1995 it requires the establishment of Migrant Workers and Other Overseas Filipinos Resource Centers “in countries where there are large concentrations of Filipino migrant workers.”

“Actually—honestly, if that’s their issue then it would be non-negotiable for the Philippines because we will not close down our shelters there since it is required under our law,” de Vega said. He also added in another media interview that currently the Kuwait shelter hosts 466 OFWs.

Migrant Workers group Migrante chairperson Arman Hernando said on a TV interview with ANC’s “Rundown” last week that “the issue is not with the bilateral labour agreement, but with the system of work there, particularly the kafala system.”

The kafala system, which is in place in Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, requires migrant workers to be sponsored by a citizen or company in the host country. Upon arrival their passports are taken so that they cannot flee the country if the employer abuses them.

“It prohibits the exercise of so many rights of our fellow Filipinos and gives employers in Kuwait license to abuse them,” Hernando, who described the policy as “very stringent”, said.

The DMW said in January when the Kuwait deployment ban was announced that what they need is a revision of the 2018 bilateral labour deployment agreement to include more safeguards for OFW in Kuwait like the agreement signed in 2017 between the Philippines and Saudi Arabia[2]. Last week’s talks in Kuwait is believed to be centered on that.

Remittences from OFWs is a major foreign exchange earner for the Philippines and they have been sending workers abroad for decades as Filipinos seek better wages and opportunities overseas. Remittances from Filipinos abroad reached $36.14 billion in 2022.

* This report was compiled by IDN-InDepthNews SDG news desk drawing on resources of PhilStar, Philippines Star, INQUIRER.net, PIA and Philipino Star. [IDN-InDepthNews]

Photo: “It pains me to see OFWs being abused—more so slaughtered by people whom they selflessly served,” Pangasinan 3rd District Rep. Rachel Arenas said. Source: STAR / Rudy Santos, file

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[1] https://migrationpolicy.unescwa.org/sites/default/files/policies/2018_Kuwait_MOU_Philippines.pdf

[2] https://migrationpolicy.unescwa.org/sites/default/files/policies/2017_KSA_MOU_Philippines.pdf

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