Accord may allow Filipinos to hold passports – Kuwait ‘Interior’ team to travel to Manila

Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait Renato Pedro O Villa

KUWAIT CITY, March 1, (Agencies): Kuwait and the Philippines are expected to sign an agreement to streamline labor regulations particularly for domestic workers, according to gdnonline. com. Under the draft deal the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) may keep their passports, have a weekly day off and work for a fixed number of hours.

The Philippines Ambassador to Kuwait Renato Pedro called the ‘talks’ with Kuwait’s Foreign Ministry officials positive. A delegation from Kuwait’s Interior Ministry is expected to travel to Manila in the second half of this month to sign the deal with the Philippines Labor Ministry. He said that Kuwait has given a nod to most of the demands concerning the OFWs in Kuwait. However, “Any decision to allow expatriates to return to Kuwait or fix a date for the Philippines president’s visit will be taken after signing the agreement,” said the ambassador.

Meanwhile, quoting the Philippine labor officials who were in Kuwait for talks announced (today) March 1, their counterparts from Kuwait will arrive in Manila next week to finalize the bilateral agreement which will also allow the OFWs to give their consent or clearance from the Philippine Overseas Labor Offices in cases of transfer of workers to another employer and prevent employers with a record of abuse from hiring Filipino workers.

In a press briefing Labor Undersecretary Claro Arellano, head of the negotiating team, said the Kuwaiti government had agreed that the bilateral meeting be held in Manila and will cover all Household Service Workers (HSWs) and skilled workers in Kuwait.

The agreement comes in the face of 196 deaths of Filipino workers in Kuwait since 2016. This figure is on top of 6,000 cases of abuse, sexual harassment and rape filed with the Philippine embassy in 2017 as recorded by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA). Arellano added, after the signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on the protection OFWs, guidelines will be drafted and made public late March or early April.

But this would not automatically lead to the lifting of the ban on deployment to Kuwait unless the death of Demafelis is resolved first. “Without that, I am not recommending the lifting of the ban,” he said. Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III had issued the total ban on deployment to Kuwait after the body of Filipina domestic helper Joanna Demafelis was discovered in a freezer in an apartment in Kuwait, according to news.abs-cbn. com.

Bello said the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has added 7 labor personnel in Kuwait to look after the concerns of OFWs. OWWA Deputy Administrator Arnell Ignacio meanwhile, has been designated acting labor attaché in Kuwait pending the arrival of the new appointee to the post, an assistant labor attaché and a welfare officer.

DOLE had earlier recalled those holding the three positions as a result of the case of Demafelis, whose family had complained of the lack of government help when they lost contact with the OFW sometime in 2016. Bello said aside from Kuwait, he also received reports of high incidence of sexual molestation in Saudi Arabia, based on written reports from the DOLE-OWWA Rapid Reaction Team which visited the two countries. He said they are now in the process of reviewing all existing bilateral agreements with other countries to provide maximum protection to OFWs.

During Thursday’s press conference, Bello also presented Marissa Ansaji Mohammad, the one who allegedly processed job papers for Demafelis in 2014. But in her defense, Mohammad said she was only a trainee at the Mt Carmel Recruitment Agency, the firm that processed the employment papers of Demafelis and could not even recall the name of Joanna but was familiar with her photo.

The NBI does not consider Mohammad a suspect but a person of interest. Bello said the authorities are looking at 2 to 3 other persons of interest connected with the recruitment agency but refused to release their names.

In the meantime, the Al-Anba daily reported a humanitarian gesture in which an unidentified Kuwaiti is said to have repatriated his Filipino domestic worker, who is reportedly suffering from cancer.

The daily said when the Kuwaiti realized she was in the last stages he gave her KD 2,600 and one month’s salary and a return ticket although she had worked for less than a month. He also requested the concerned authorities to pursue the Domestic Workers Recruiting Office accusing it of fraud for failing to detect the sickness. —,,

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