Thousands of Filipinos workers leave the country each year to work abroad, especially in the Middle East. (Photo by Mark Saludes)
The Philippine bishops' commission on migrant care is pressing the government to ensure that a deal about to be struck with Kuwait guaranteeing protection for Filipino workers, most of whom are maids, is adhered to.
Philippine and Kuwaiti officials approved this week the final draft of a memorandum of understanding on such a deal, but Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte wanted to add more provisions.
"I demanded that it will be a contract of government to government and that there will be some mandatory provisions, like they should be allowed to sleep at least seven hours a day," said the president.
Aside from provisions on sleeping hours, Duterte also wanted Filipino workers to be served "nutritious food" and be allowed a weekly break and days off during holidays. He said employers should also not seize and withhold workers' passports.
"I said, if this does not push through ... then you'll just have to forgive me. There will be no lifting of the ban," said the president on March 21.
Duterte recently ordered a total ban on the deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait following the discovery of the body of a missing maid last month.
Earlier in January, the Philippines suspended deployment of workers to the Gulf state after seven Filipino maids were reported to have died after allegedly suffering abuse at the hands of employers.
Prior to the ban, Kuwait was a top destination for Filipino workers, with about 250,000 working there.
From January to November last year, remittances of workers from Kuwait amounted to US$735 million, according to data from the Central Bank of the Philippines.
Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga, head of the Episcopal Commission on the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, said the government should see to it that the provisions in the proposed deal are implemented.
"Once signed, we appeal that our government officials monitor that [the agreement] is strictly followed," said the prelate, adding that church leaders support the deal proposals because "they are beneficial" to Filipino workers.
Bishop Santos said the bishops particularly support the provision allowing Filipino workers to keep their passports.
"It is just fair and legal that our [migrant workers] keep their passports, to have and use cellphones, and enjoy days off," said the prelate.
He said church leaders also support the part of the proposed deal that does not allow employers change contracts once the migrant workers reach their destination.
Philippine Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello said the agreement is to be signed by Philippine and Kuwaiti officials in two weeks.