SIGNING. Philippines and Kuwait sign an agreement protecting OFWs in the Gulf country. Photo courtesy of the Department of Foreign Affairs
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Philippines and Kuwait signed on Friday, May 11, a memorandum of agreement providing additional protection for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the Gulf country.
Foreigns Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano met with Kuwaiti Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khalid Al Hamad Al Sabah.
Philippine officials Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, and Special Envoy to Kuwait Abdullah Mamao were also part of the contingent.
The signing happened amid the diplomatic row between the two countries. Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait Renato Villa was declared “persona non grata” for the embassy’s rescue of abused OFWs.
Philippine Senator Joel Villanueva, Senate committee on labor chairperson, commended the signing. He also said that “it should not only be on paper” and actually prevent abuses.
“The MOA…should not just be in paper as no less than the labor laws of Kuwait guarantees better labor conditions for our OFWs including the prohibition on confiscation of workers’ passports,” Villanueva said in a statement late Friday.
Villanueva urged the the Philippine government to be “proactive in engaging the Kuwaiti government” for OFWs to be given the necessary protection they need.
What it covers: The memorandum of agreement will cover all household service workers and skilled workers deployed in the Gulf state. Its salient features include the following:
Employers cannot confiscate the passports and other travel documents of Filipino workers
Filipino workers must be allowed to use their phones
Transfer of workers to another employer should be with the consent of the Filipino worker or with the go-signal of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office
The agreement also covers repatriation of OFWs in shelters and those awaiting rescue, the activation of a 24/7 hotline for distressed workers in need of assistance, and the creation of a special police unit that would assist the Philippine embassy in rescue operations.
Talks were revived earlier this year, after household service worker Joanna Demafeliswas discovered dead in a freezer in Kuwait. The issue led the Philippines to declare a total deployment ban to the Gulf state.
A copy of the agreement is yet to be available to the media.
Why it matters: TheOverseas Workers Welfare Administration recorded a total of 196 deaths of Filipino workers in the Gulf country since 2016.
This figure is on top of 6,000 cases of abuse, sexual harassment, and rape filed with the Philippine embassy in 2017.
Philippine labor deployment to Kuwait continued in the past, even if the latter was only “partially compliant” with Philippine labor regulations. The agreement on protection has been pending for two years.