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Kuwait, Philippines reach deal on domestic helpers

Workers to retain passports – Kuwait calls to lift labor ban, Manila in no hurry

Sami Al-Hamad

KUWAIT: Kuwait and the Philippines signed a draft deal to regulate the work of domestic helpers, a Kuwaiti diplomat said yesterday. Foreign Ministry Undersecretary for Consulate Affairs Sami Al-Hamad told KUNA that the deal, which was signed on Friday 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 Hamad.

The deal may end a two-month crisis sparked by reports that abuse by employers in Kuwait had driven several Filipinos to suicide. The Philippines stopped sending workers to Kuwait in January after a Filipina maid was found dead in a freezer, the latest incident in what Manila called a pattern of abuse in the state.

Hamad said the two sides agreed that domestic workers from the Philippines will have the right to retain their passports as well as the right to refuse being transferred to other employers. A Filipino request to obtain any criminal records that employers might have was denied, because Kuwaiti authorities will not allow anyone with a record to recruit workers, said the foreign ministry official. Hamad affirmed that the Kuwaiti side requested that the doors for labor recruitment should be reopened for Kuwaiti agencies, especially the government-backed Al-Durra company. He assured that those interested in employing domestic workers will be able to do so by paying reasonable fees.

But the ban on sending Filipinos to work in Kuwait will remain in place, Philippines Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said 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 found in the freezer, 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, most likely in Kuwait. The officials agreed to allow Filipino workers to keep their own passports, or give them to the Philippine Embassy for safekeeping, to prevent employers from withholding the document. The workers will also get to keep their cellphones. Employers will not be allowed to transfer workers from one employer to another without the workers’ consent. Both parties also agreed to provide a $400 (KD 120) monthly salary. The employer will open a bank account where salary will be deposited, as proof the worker is being paid.

Workers in many Gulf states are employed under the kafala (sponsorship) system, which gives employers the right to keep their passports and full control over their stay in the country. Rights groups say this system leaves millions of workers in the Gulf region open to exploitation. There are more than 250,000 Filipinos in Kuwait, the Philippine foreign ministry estimates, with most working as domestic helpers. There are also large numbers in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. – Agencies

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