After over two months of stalemate between the Philippines and Kuwait, a draft agreement has been reached to regulate the services of domestic helpers in the Gulf State, according to a Kuwaiti official last March 16.
According to Foreign Consulate Affairs Undersecretary, Sami Al-Hamad, the draft which had been signed on the same day transpired after a series of meetings between a group of visiting Kuwaiti diplomatic emissaries and Filipino officials in Manila. The agreement will ascertain the rights of both employees and employers.
Kuwait, Philippines come to terms on Domestic Work Arrangements
The long-overdue deal could just be the solution to the standing labour ban imposed by the Philippines on Kuwait that had been based on reports of incidences of suicide among Filipino workers in the Gulf State due to the maltreatment and abuse by their foreign employers. The final straw was when a body of a dead Filipina household worker was found inside a freezer in Kuwait.
According to Hamad, the two parties agreed that Filipino domestic helpers will be given the right to keep their passports as well as the right to refuse to be transferred to other employers. On the other hand, Filipinos are not granted the liberty to request for any criminal records which their employers may have because according to the foreign ministry official, the Kuwaiti government does not allow anyone with a malicious track record to recruit and employ workers. Also, Hamad confirmed that the Kuwaiti side had already requested the Philippine side for the restoration of labour and recruitment ties with Kuwaiti firms and agencies, most especially the government-sanctioned Al-Durra company. He cited that those who still wish to employ foreign domestic workers will still be able to do so for a reasonable cost.
However, as per Labour Secretary Silvestre Bello III, the deployment ban on Kuwait still remains in effect even after the two parties spent two days of talks, and have set an agreement for the few last issues over a dinner meeting.
President Duterte stands by his decision to retain the deployment ban until Filipinos receive better protection in Kuwait, and until justice is given to Joana Demafelis’ death, the OFW whose dead body was found in a freezer, which triggered outrage in the Philippines. During the meeting, Bello clarified that even if an agreement has been reached, the Filipino President wanted to see to it that justice is served on Demafelis’ behalf before the ban may be lifted.
According to Undersecretary Bello, the agreement will be signed in the near future – at an agreed date and venue, most likely in Kuwait. The agreement underscores the following provisions:
- OFWs have the right to keep their own passports or surrender them to the Philippine Embassy for safekeeping
- Workers are also allowed to keep their cell phones
- Employers have no right to transfer their worker/s from one employer to another without the worker’s consent.
- Household employees will receive a $400 (120 KD) monthly salary which is to be deposited in a bank account to be opened by the employee’s sponsor/employer and will serve as legal proof that the worker is given her due on a regular and consistent basis.
As of the time being, there are over 250,000 Filipino workers in Kuwait – the majority of which are employed as household service workers (HSWs). In most Gulf States, workers are employed under the kalafa (sponsorship) system, which entitles the employers the right to gain access of their employees’ passports and control over their stay in the country. Some rights groups believe that this system puts millions of workers in Gulf countries at risk for abuse and exploitation. There is also a significant number of HSWs employed in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.