PH, Kuwait to discuss labor deal next week

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 1) — Philippine and Kuwaiti officials will hold bilateral meetings next week on a proposed agreement to protect Filipino workers in the Gulf state.

In a media briefing, Labor Undersceretary Claro Arellano said the Kuwaiti officials will arrive in Manila for talks.

"The Philippine side has already finalized the draft of its bilateral agreement and we are scheduled to meet the Kuwaiti side next week," Arellano said. "Ang tentative schedule ng dating ng Kuwaiti delegates (The tentative schedule for the arrival of Kuwaiti delegates is) ay sa next week... Most probably Wednesday."

The Philippines has been pushing for a labor deal with the West Asian country for at least three years. The talks will happen in the wake of the worker deployment ban to Kuwait.

READ: DOLE orders total ban on deployment of OFWs to Kuwait

Based on the country's draft deal, there will be provisions barring employers from taking hold of worker passports; they do this to prevent workers from leaving and reporting abuses.

"Wala namang objection sa mga provisions na ito ang Kuwaiti side," Arellano said.

[Translation: The Kuwaiti side hasn't objected to these provisions.]

READ: DFA Chief wants PH embassy to hold passports of Kuwait OFWs

The agreement will also allow workers to keep cellphones, and prohibit the transfer of workers from one employer to another without their consent or clearance from the overseas labor offices.

Employers with records of worker abuse will be banned from hiring workers, Arellano said.

Once the deal is signed, the Kuwaiti government must help implement the rules, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said.

"Kailangan tingnan ng Kuwaiti government na ang nakalagay dun na provision ay maimplement at maobserve ng mga employers," he said.

[Translation: The Kuwaiti government must ensure the provisions in the agreement are implemented and observed by employers.]

Bello added the Philippine labor attache will also send note verbales to Kuwait if incidents like confiscation of cellphones are recorded.

Meanwhile, government sent a rapid reaction team to assess the situation of Filipino workers in other countries. The team has visited Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

"Meron kaming nareceive na report... from Saudi Arabia and doon may cause for concern dahil may mga high incidents of sexual molestation. So yun ang pag aaralan ng aming department," Bello said.

[Translation: We received a report... from Saudi Arabia, where there may be a cause for concern because due to the high incidents of sexual molestation. Our department will study that.]

However, Bello said the labor deal will not be enough to lift the deployment ban.

"Kailangan maliban dun sa signing ng MOA (memorandum of agreement) or MOU (memorandum of understanding), kailangan din mabigyan ng katarungan ang ating kababayan na si Joanna (Demafelis) [Other than the signing of an MOU, our fellow Filipino Joanna Demafelis must be given justice]," he said, referring to slain overseas household helper Joanna Demafelis.

"Without that, I am not prepared to recommend to the President the lifting of the ban," Bello said

Demafelis' body was found in a freezer in Kuwait in January. Her death prompted the total deployment ban and the immediate repatriation of distressed OFWs from Kuwait.

Last week, the Foreign Affairs Department announced Demafelis' employers were in custody of authorities in Syria and Lebanon. However, Bello said Thursday he had no information if the couple has been extradited to Kuwait for legal proceedings

Prior to the ban, Kuwait was a top destination for Filipino workers, with around 240,000 working there in 2016.

Latest Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas data show remittances from Kuwait from January to November 2017 amounted to $735 million (P37.5 billion).