Philippines lifts worker deployment ban to Kuwait

Church welcomes two countries ending spat with agreement to better safeguard the rights of overseas workers
Philippines lifts worker deployment ban to Kuwait

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte talks with Kuwait's ambassador to the Philippines Musaed Saleh Ahmad Althwaikh following discussions on issues concerning Filipino workers on April 23. (Photo courtesy of the Presidential Communications Office)

The Philippines has lifted its deployment ban of workers to Kuwait following the signing of a deal that provides additional protection for Filipinos in the Gulf state.

President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the lifting of the ban on May 16, ending months of tension with Kuwait that resulted in the expulsion of the Philippines's ambassador to the oil rich country in April.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello said the president has ordered a total lifting of the ban.

An estimated 262,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, more than half of them as domestic workers.

"The president deemed that our overseas workers are protected in Kuwait and he will no longer see incidents of maltreatment, hopefully," said Bello.

Duterte put a temporary stop to the sending of workers to the Gulf state in February after the discovery of the body of a domestic worker who was  murdered by her employers.

The president then declared a permanent ban on April 30 and called on Filipinos to come home if they were being mistreated after Kuwait expelled the Philippines' ambassador to the country.

Kuwait ordered the Philippine ambassador to leave after embassy staff reportedly tried to "rescue" Filipino domestic workers amid reports of abuse.

The Philippines has since apologized. 

Both countries signed an agreement last week on the employment of domestic workers, paving the way for the lifting of the ban.

Bello said the signing of the agreement has improved labor diplomacy. "Our relationship and diplomatic ties are now stronger," he said.

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Allan Peter Cayetano and Kuwait's Deputy Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Kahalid Al Hamad Al Sabah signed the agreement on May 11.

The agreement states that domestic workers will now be allowed to keep their passports and mobile phones. 

The Philippine Overseas Labor Office will also have to approve the renewal of contracts, contrary to the practice of automatic renewal in the past.

The agreement also requires employers to provide domestic workers with food, housing, clothing and health insurance.

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Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga, head of the Episcopal Commission for the Protection of Migrants and Itinerant People of the Catholic bishops' conference, welcomed the agreement.

"We are very thankful to the government officials of the Philippines and Kuwait for signing the [agreement]," said the prelate.

"We appreciate the good efforts, good intentions and hard work of those who made the signing a reality," he added.

The prelate said the agreement has to be "the cornerstone of protecting and promoting the rights and welfare of our [migrant workers]" and a "testament of common collaboration, mutual respect and understanding of both countries."

Under the agreement, both countries vowed to "uphold ethical policies, systems, and procedures for the recruitment and employment of domestic workers." 

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