Philippines, Kuwait agree on migrant labor protection pact

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The State of Kuwait, and the Philippines signed a draft deal to regulate the work of domestic helpers, said a Kuwaiti diplomat Saturday. Foreign Ministry Undersecretary for Consulate Affairs Sami Al-Hamad told  that the deal, which was signed last night, came as a result of a meeting between a visiting Kuwaiti ministerial delegation and Filipino authorities in Manila.

The deal will ensure the rights of both employers and employees, said Al-Hamad who affirmed that the Kuwaiti side requested that the doors for labor recruitment would be re-opened for Kuwaiti agencies, especially the government-backed Al-Durra company.

Al-Hamad noted that those interested in employing domestic workers would be able to do so by paying reasonable fees. He added that employers must ensure that their laborers would have the right to retain their passport, as well as the right of refusing transfer of their working visa to another employer.

A Filipino request to obtain any criminal records that employers might have was denied because Kuwaiti authorities would not allow anyone with a record to recruit labor, said the Foreign Ministry official.

A ban on sending Filipinos to work in Kuwait will remain in place, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said in a phone interview after the sides engaged in two days of talks resolved their last remaining issues over dinner.

President Rodrigo Duterte has said the ban won’t be lifted unless Filipinos get better protection in Kuwait and justice is served for the Filipina woman, Joana Demafelis, whose death sparked outrage in the Philippines. Bello said earlier that even if a pact was reached Duterte wanted to see justice served in her case before lifting the ban.

Bello said the pact would be signed at an agreed time and venue in the near future. The last issues to be settled involved the work contracts and the handling of passports of Filipinos in Kuwait, where more than 260,000 Filipinos work, many of them as housemaids.

Philippine officials have demanded that housemaids be allowed to hold their passports and cellphones, which is normal for skilled workers like teachers and office workers. But many Kuwaiti employers have seized the phones and legal papers, which Bello said prevented maids from rapidly seeking help when they were abused. Philippine officials have also sought a minimum monthly wage of at least $400 for housemaids.

Demafelis’ body was found in the abandoned apartment where she had worked for a Lebanese man and his Syrian wife, both of whom have been arrested. She had likely been dead for more than a year.
Many of the mourners at Demafelis’s burial in her central Philippine hometown demanded justice for her.

Her death is one of several that have brought attention to the plight of Filipinos working overseas in sometimes-unsafe environments.

About a tenth of the nation’s 100 million people work abroad to provide for families back home. Last year, those workers sent home more than $31 billion, accounting for 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

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