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‘Nothing new’ for OFWs in proposed agreement with Kuwait – Migrante

MANILA, Philippines – Militant group Migrante Philippines on Monday, March 12, hit the proposed bilateral agreement between the governments of the Philippines and Kuwait, saying that it “will offer nothing new” in preventing abuses and maltreatment of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, in a press conference last week, revealed the salient features of the draft memorandum of understanding with Kuwait. Employers will allow OFWs to keep their passports and use cellphones. Employers are prohibited from “trading” workers with other employers without the consent of the OFW or government officials. Employers with record of abuse are banned from hiring OFWs.

Quoting Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, the Department of Foreign Affairs also said that Kuwait had agreed to the following conditions for Filipino domestic workers: a minimum monthly salary of KD120 (around P20,700), rest hours of at least 8 hours per day, and work limited to only one household.  (READ: 'Talks with Kuwait for welfare of OFWs 'going well' – DFA' )

Already in laws, contracts: But according to Migrante chairperson Arman Hernando, Kuwait labor laws – including Law Number 68 of 2015 or Domestic Employment Law – already provide for the guarantees indicated in the MOU.

"The MOU set to be signed, if these provisions are what it has to offer, creates nothing new and will only be a duplicate of the previous laws and policies of the two governments concerning the OFWs,” Hernando said in a statement.

He explained that Philippine labor laws and the standard employment contract for household service workers in Kuwait mandated by the Philippines Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) also already provide for these terms.

“President Duterte should stop making trophies out of every OFW’s miseries. His regime should stop shedding tears on the death of Joanna Demafelis and boasting of reforms based on recycled policies to appease her family and every OFW’s cry for justice while at the same time continuing its business of exporting Filipinos abroad,” said Hernando.

OFWs not consulted: Migrante also criticized the Duterte administration for not consulting the domestic helpers on the content of the MOU. 

“The primary stakeholders in this deal are the victims of abuse and ill treatment. The government should listen to the cries of the OFWs and let their demands be the heart and soul of the agreement,” Hernando said. 

Deployment ban. The Department of Labor and Employment announced last February 12 it would enforce a ban on the deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait. (READ: Duterte lashes out at Kuwait over mistreatment of Filipino workers)

Among the cases cited for this decision was that of Joanna Demafelis, an OFW who was reported missing as early as January 2017. Her remains were later found in a freezer in Kuwait around a year later, and finally brought back to the Philippines last February 16. (READ: 'A national shame': The death and homecoming of Joanna Demafelis)

The suspects in Demafelis' killing, Lebanese Nader Essam Assaf and his Syrian wife Mona Hassoun, have since been arrested. Alleged recruiter Agnes Tuballes may also face charges even if she claims she only referred Demafelis to recruitment agency Our Lady of Mt Carmel Global E-Human Resources Incorporated. – Rappler.com

Don Kevin Hapal

Don Kevin Hapal is Rappler’s Head of Data and Innovation. He started at Rappler as a digital communications specialist, then went on to lead Rappler’s Balikbayan section for overseas Filipinos. He was introduced to data journalism while writing and researching about social media, disinformation, and propaganda.

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