KUWAIT CITY, Feb 26: A Philippine delegation composed of Department of Labour and Employment (DOLE) Undersecretary Ciriaco Lagunzad, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration Deputy Administrators Brigido Dulay Jr, Arnel Ignacio and Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) Labour Assistance Head at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Marcelo Maningding Jr arrived in Kuwait last weekend to check on the plight of the Filipinos in Kuwait amid the ongoing deployment ban on newly hired skilled workers and household service workers (HSWs) bound for Kuwait.
Lagunzad and his team met with the heads of various Filipino organizations in Kuwait to hear them out and take note of their suggestions that will be submitted to the technical working committee. This is in preparation for the upcoming joint bilateral talks between Kuwait and the Philippines that would pave way for the signing of the bilateral agreement on the deployment and protection of Filipino HSWs to Kuwait.
Present also during the meeting were Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait Renato Pedro Villa, Labour Attache Alejandro Padaen and Welfare Officer Nestor Burayag as well as the OWWA Augmentation Team from Manila.
Most of the Filipino community leaders in Kuwait are pushing for the lifting of the deployment ban on newly hired skilled workers. They said there is no point holding them in the Philippines as there is already an existing bilateral agreement between Kuwait and the Philippines that covers the protection of skilled workers Moreover, there is the Kuwait labor law that provides protection for the skilled workers, however it does not cover the HSWs, hence the ban for HSWs stays until full protection is provided. “Yes to the lifting of the ban on newly hired skilled workers but no to the lifting of the ban on HSWs. Both parties should sign the bilateral agreement,” stated Mary Ann Abunda, Founder of Sandigan Kuwait. Among the suggestions aired by the Filipino community are the full implementation of the Kuwait Domestic Workers Law, regular and stricter monitoring system for HSWs.
They should be allowed to hold their passport or be deposited at the embassy, have their own mobile phone, their salary be deposited in the bank and be given an ATM. The HSWs should be given life insurance coverage in Kuwait not only medical and dental insurance.
The group also suggested that there should be an undertaking between the employer and the embassy to be presented at the Immigration whenever the HSW travels with the employer out of Kuwait to prevent human trafficking.
The embassy should issue a clearance before any employer be allowed to hire an HSW and be presented to the manpower recruitment agency that will do due diligence to also check on the background of the employer.
Anna del Mundo, who met the delegation at the Philippines’ embassy on Saturday, said her recruitment agency had already been hurt by the ban. She said the agency had hired around 100 nurses for a Kuwait hospital but they were now stuck home due to the ban.
One of the Filipino leaders also suggested that HSWs to be deployed to Kuwait have to undergo at least three to six months of training and orientation of Kuwait’s culture and environment. “They should be well prepared and fully equipped with the needed knowledge of their working environment as well as their duties and responsibilities,” stated Paulo Liwanag, the Secretary-General of the Filipino Association of Employment Secretaries in Kuwait.
Lagunzad assured the Filipino community leaders that all their sentiments and suggestions will be submitted to the technical working committee for consideration. The Filipino leaders also informed the visiting delegation about the alarming increase in the number of distressed OFWs running to the POLO-OWWA shelter every day.
There are more than 800 wards at the centre now, the highest among the POLO shelters in the Middle East. Lagunzad assured that they have already found an additional shelter to decongest the POLO-OWWA Shelter.
Meanwhile, the repatriation of undocumented OFWs continues with the extension of the Kuwait Amnesty till April 22, 2018.
In other news, as Duterte sent this week a team of labor officials to Kuwait to seek greater protection for migrant workers, Kuwait has said it is investigating reported deaths and abuses, and insisted there were only a small number considering that there are more than 250,000 Filipinos working in the country.
In the meantime, the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Saturday said the OFW reportedly found comatose in a hospital in Kuwait, which had gone viral on Facebook, is safe and now back home in the Philippines.
DFA said investigations conducted by the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait and Riyadh found that the Facebook post on OFW Noraisa Manambit, working in Damman, Saudi Arabia, was false.
Both embassy teams worked closely with the local authorities of Kuwait and Riyadh looking for Manambit, who was reportedly comatose in Kuwait’s Farwaniya Hospital. According to DFA, officers from the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait combed both Farwaniya and the Amiri hospitals only to discover there was no patient by that name.
The Philippine Embassy in Riyadh, on the other hand, conducted its own extensive investigation and found Manambit was in the custody of the Saudi Immigration in Dammam for normal and orderly repatriation with the assistance of Embassy personnel. Labor and Employment Secretary Silvestre Bello III said the decision on whether to lift or not the total deployment ban on OFWs to Kuwait rests with President Duterte. “The President will be the one to decide on that (lifting),” he said.
Bello said as of now they are waiting if the Kuwaiti government will sign the Memorandum of Agreement on the protection of OFWs. “If they will do that the President might lift the deployment ban,” he said.
The DOLE already sent a Technical Working Group to Kuwait to finalize the Memorandum of Understanding with Kuwait for the safety, security and welfare of Filipino workers.
Undersecretary Claro Arellano, the head of the group, revealed that one of the salient features of the proposed MoU which they will push in their negotiations with their Kuwaiti counterparts is to allow OFWs to have their passports in their possessions.
By Michele Fe Santiago Arab Times Staff and Agencies