SENATORS on Tuesday welcomed the partial lifting of the deployment ban of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to Kuwait following the signing of a labor protection agreement with the Gulf state.
“The decision of the Philippine government to lift the deployment ban for skilled and semi-skilled Filipino workers bound for Kuwait is a step in the right direction toward normalization of diplomatic relations between the two countries and ensuring full protection of our ‘kababayans’ in the Gulf nation,” Senator Sonny Angara said in a statement.
The senator likewise commended the “efforts of the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte” to put in place “measures that would guarantee the safety and welfare of OFWs” in Kuwait and the entire Middle East, saying such measures “deserves our support.”
“We hope that our government will remain steadfast in ensuring that the labor rights of all Filipinos working abroad, especially domestic workers, are upheld and protected at all times,” Angara said.
Duterte ordered a total ban on the deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait in February following a string of reported deaths and abuses of OFWs in the Gulf state that was capped with the death of Joanna Demafelis, whose body was found in a freezer.
Diplomatic ties between the Philippines and Kuwait were further strained last month after Philippine embassy officials “rescued” distressed Filipino workers allegedly without coordinating with Kuwaiti authorities.
Last week, Malacañang said ties between the two countries were back to normal after Kuwait agreed to sign the “Agreement on the Employment of Domestic Workers between the Philippines and Kuwait” that provides additional protection for Filipino overseas workers.
Philippine and Kuwaiti officials signed the deal on May 11.
Among the highlights of the deal that will benefit OFWs include prohibiting employers from confiscating the passports of domestic workers; allowing domestic workers to have and use cellular phones and other means to communicate with their families and their government and to prohibit their employers from confiscating them; strictly enforcing wage contracts; and the establishment of a mechanism which shall provide 24-hour assistance to the domestic worker among others.
Senator Joel Villanueva also welcomed the partial lifting of the deployment ban and urged the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) to ensure that the Philippine government keeps its end of the deal.
Besides ensuring that deployed domestic workers are medically fit and have no prior criminal records, the deal provides that the Philippine government must also ensure that the domestic workers have completed trainings and were oriented on the Kuwaiti laws, customs and traditions.
Villanueva, who chairs the Senate Committee on Labor, Employment, and Human Resources Development, stressed the need for “household service workers” (HSWs) to acquire Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) certification prior to their deployment.
“We welcome the lifting of the deployment ban and at the same time, we would want DOLE and POEA to report on the required training before the deployment of HSWs through TESDA’s NC-II Domestic Work certification,” he said.
The former TESDA director-general said he would require a report whether this has been complied, how many recruitment agencies are complying, how many HSWs have been certified prior their deployment, and what are the problems encountered.
“We urge the DOLE and POEA to conscientiously pursue the upgrading of household service work as a profession with unique skills set and not slaves consistent with ILO Convention 189 on Domestic Work, which the country actively campaigned for to ensure the protection of our HSWs. Our HSWs should already be armed with NC II certificates as professional service workers, and recruitment agencies should be required to deploy only certified HSWs,” Villanueva said.