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Philippine embassy explains ‘partial’ deployment ban

KUWAIT: The Philippine Embassy in Kuwait yesterday clarified the imposition of a ban on Filipino domestic helpers to Kuwait from Jan 3, 2020. The ban was issued amid reported cases of maltreatment and deaths involving overseas Filipino workers in Kuwait, specifically the death of Jeanelyn Padernal Villavende last month.

An advisory posted on social media signed by Philippine Labor Attache to Kuwait Nasser Mustafa read as follows: “The ban applies only to visa 20 (domestic helpers) for both new hires and ‘balik mangagawa’ (returning OFWs). This includes the verification, accreditation and processing of individual contracts and additional job orders for visa 20. All overseas employment certificates issued to domestic workers by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) on or before 5 pm of Jan 3, 2020 shall be valid for deployment.”

Many Filipinos in Kuwait support the ban, but a few expressed dismay over this decision by Manila. “I am not very excited about this ban. I know they’ll ban today but tomorrow they’ll open employment for domestic helpers again, because this new ban is a product of anger. Any ban should study the pros and cons for both sides for the sake of the workers and the two governments,” said a 43-year-old Filipino skilled worker. “Let the ban be imposed forever, and not only an overnight ban. Why compromise? Look at the Indonesians – they were able to do this. If they say it, they mean it. I hope this will not be the same as the 2018 ban,” he added.

“I hope to see the ban a bit longer this time, so they see the value of Filipino household service workers. They need us so they can go to work and play. But it seems our value to them is so little, that they consider us as slaves instead of helpers,” said a Pinoy domestic worker in Qurtuba. “I only get one day off a month. The memorandum of agreement between Kuwait and the Philippines says one off every week, but many of us are not even getting a day off,” she said.

Kuwait is utterly committed to the protection of expatriate labor rights, particularly domestic workers, the Kuwaiti finance minister said on Thursday, underlining that breaching these rights is not tolerated under any circumstances. Mariam Al-Aqeel, also acting State Minister for Economic Affairs, expressed sorrow over the death of a Filipino national employed as a domestic worker (Villavende), after an alleged attack by a Kuwaiti national.

“Kuwait is a nation of institutions, where the law is applicable to all – nationals and expatriates alike,” the minister said in a statement. The minister said she was confident in “the Kuwaiti justice system, an impartial safe haven for nationals and expatriates”, Kuwait hosts hundreds of thousands of migrant workers as it is one of the most lucrative employment destinations due to the freedom, security and protection of rights it offers to these employees, she added.

“Incidents may occur from time to time, but these are few in comparison to the size of the migrant labor employed in the country,” Aqeel said, adding, “some might use these incidents to exacerbate the situation or attempt to drive a wedge between Kuwait and any labor-exporting nation.”

Meanwhile, an OFW-advocate and former ACT-OFW party list congressman John Bertiz rejected Manila’s decision to impose a partial ban on the deployment of Filipinos to Kuwait. “The current situation calls for a total ban,” he said in a Manila newspaper. “Villavende’s death should immediately prompt our government to impose a total ban, until the provisions of and conditions set under the existing labor agreement with Kuwait are fully implemented,” he said.

On Friday, based on Governing Board Resolution 01, series of 2020, the POEA announced a partial ban on the sending of Filipino workers to Kuwait, particularly newly-hired household service workers, effective immediately. “The POEA Governing Board, in a meeting duly convened, hereby resolved to adopt the said memorandum and effect a deployment ban for newly-hired domestic workers to Kuwait effective immediately,” the order said.

“A moratorium on the verification, accreditation and processing of individual contracts and additional job orders for the same category of workers shall be effected,” it added. The governing board clarified that those workers with overseas employment certificates (OECs) issued on or before 5 pm of Jan 3 will be allowed to depart for Kuwait.

After consulting Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr and Undersecretary Brigido Dulay on Thursday, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, who also chairs the POEA Governing Board, issued a memorandum to POEA to immediately convene the board for the immediate issuance of a partial deployment ban involving visa 20 (domestic workers) new hires and “balik-manggagawa”.

The memo also instructed the POEA to include a moratorium on the processing and verification of individual contracts and additional job orders for the same category of workers. On Feb 12, 2018, the Philippine government imposed a total deployment ban on the sending of OFWs to Kuwait due to a series of reports of abuse and deaths of OFWs in the country, including the death of Joanna Daniela Demafelis. The ban was lifted in May 2018 after then Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano and Kuwaiti officials signed an agreement on the employment of domestic workers.

By Ben Garcia

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