Manila brandishes ban for system change – Philippines charges ‘slave-like’ conditions

MANILA, Feb 28: The Philippine government has said the ban on employment of the Filipino workers remains in place in a bid to open talks on their working conditions in Kuwait, according to news.abs-cbn.

The Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Wednesday said the ban is an opportunity for what it called “fruitful negotiations” with Kuwait on reported cases of abuse and slave-like conditions for migrant workers under the so-called “kafala” system — a common practice in Arab countries which requires migrant workers to have a sponsor.

“The kafala or sponsor is not just a sponsor or employer as understood in the West but becomes a virtual owner of the household service worker in the concept of chattel (personal possession),” Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Ernesto Abella said. He went on to say, “This is manifested in slavery work conditions such as no days off, no food, two to four hours of sleep daily and maltreatment. Often, slave conditions including sexual slavery,” he added, noting that 6,000 cases of abuses against Filipinos in Kuwait were reported in 2016.

Presidential Adviser on OFWs Abdullah Mama-o had earlier said the government should not allow Filipinos to find work in the Middle East under the kafala system. Abella also touched on reports that certain employers in the Middle East trade in Filipino household workers among different families. He said an “audit” is being made in light of such reports. “Philippine household workers have reported that certain families and employers are in the habit of trading household service help among families,” Abella said.

DFA Office of the Middle East and Africa Affairs Executive Director Raymond Balatbat, meanwhile, noted that labor cooperation agreements with Middle East countries are being fasttracked according to Abella to help improve working conditions and protect the rights of Filipino workers, said globalnation.inquirer.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) said Wednesday “high-level” discussion was ongoing between the Philippine and Kuwaiti governments to tackle issues concerning the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Kuwait POEA Administrator Bernard Olalia said the Philippine government should send a strong message to its counterpart in Kuwaiti about abuses committed against the Filipinos.

Olalia said the Philippines government was asking Kuwait to change certain policies regarding OFWs particularly on issues of passport, labor standards, and communication. “We have to send a clear message to the Kuwaiti government. We have to tell them that the security and full protection of our OFWs are primordial concerns of our government,” Olalia said. According to the, first-time domestic workers barred from leaving for Kuwait may instead be sent to other countries, POEA said. These individuals, who were affected by the deployment ban to Kuwait, may be sent to countries such as Hong Kong, Cyprus or Singapore, which also have a high demand for household service workers, said Olalia.

Duterte, who had earlier warned of pulling Filipinos out of Kuwait amid reports of deaths and abuses of OFWs, made the directive following the death of household service worker Joanna Demafelis, who was found in a freezer. Meanwhile, the DFA said Tuesday it is still awaiting notification from Kuwaiti authorities about the arrest of the employers of Joanna. “The embassy is awaiting formal notification from Kuwaiti authorities who are the ones taking the lead role in the efforts to locate and apprehend the two and have them repatriated to Kuwait,” a DFA statement said.

The murder of Joanna has triggered outrage but the estimated 252,000 Filipinos already working in Kuwait must weigh their fear of sharing her fate against the potential loss of vital income for their families. Many have relatives back home who depend on remittances to survive, and some say they are forced to choose between their own wellbeing and that of their children. A Filipina who works in a beauty parlor in downtown Kuwait City said she has been working since 2013 to support her five children who live in the Philippines.

Despite being rattled by news of her compatriot’s murder, the 40-year-old said going home was not an option. “I need the money,” she said. “My eldest son is in university studying business administration. It’s expensive, and there’s no way I would have been able to afford it if I had stayed in my country.” “I was truly afraid — but actually because I want to stay here to make sure my children graduate from school,” she said without disclosing her name. “But if the government asks me to leave, I will have no choice but to comply.” Sources said, like many others, her fate — and that of her children — now lies in the hands of diplomats, as the crisis between the two countries deepens. Kuwait, whose image was dealt a serious blow, offered an amnesty to illegal workers wanting to fly back home. But Human Rights Watch has warned the new Philippine ban would likely trigger a wave of unregulated labor migration, exposing thousands to an even greater risk of abuse.

Some plan to lobby the Philippines’ Overseas Workers Welfare Administration to lift Duterte’s ban, at least for skilled workers whose status in Kuwait is not tied to a single family under the “kafala” (sponsorship) system.

Mohammed Al-Humaidi, director of the Kuwait Society for Human Rights, said his group regularly receives calls for help from Filipinas with abusive employers. “While we have a deal with a legal bureau which represents workers and maids in court, the unfortunate reality is that many calls for help do not even reach us,” he said. The head of Kuwait’s parliamentary Human Rights Committee, Adel Damkhi, says the judiciary does not discriminate when it comes to crimes in Kuwait. “There have been several horrific incidents on both sides, but crimes committed by Kuwaitis are more prominent in the media than crimes committed by the maids,” Damkhi said. Damkhi called the murder of Joanna “a heinous crime.” — news.abs.cbnglobalnation. inquirer,

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