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Think of other OFWs as well

By Robert B. Roque, Jr.

The Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) may widen the deployment ban on overseas Filipino workers to Kuwait by covering other countries in the Middle East as well.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III says an expanded deployment ban may be enforced if other Arab countries with cases of abuse and maltreatment still fail to support and strengthen the rights of OFWs.

Among the provisions that the Philippine government is pushing for in the memorandum of agreement being negotiated with the Kuwaiti government is the scrapping of the kafala system, which is allegedly a malpractice where employers can trade or switch their workers with other employers.

The kafala system, which is also being practiced in Saudi Arabia, disallows a worker from quitting or switching jobs without the employer’s consent. It is a sponsorship system which also prohibits OFWs from leaving the country without the consent of their employers.

The government has sent a team to the Middle East to assess the problems faced by our OFWs. Rampant cases of maltreatment in spite of the existence of a bilateral labor agreement mean that the agreement needs to be amended.

Bello says President Duterte’s demand is to allow the deployment of our workers only to countries where they are being properly and effectively protected.

Our county’s efforts in wanting to help OFWs who were victimized and want to come home should be praised.

Still, issuing a deployment ban to the Middle East may affect all Filipinos who enjoy a wonderful working relationship with their employers. How can they continue to support their families if their employment is terminated by our own government? Providing R20,000 or more to OFWs who return home cannot compare with the money they are earning in that corner of the globe.

We understand the President was enraged after the remains of Filipina domestic helper Joanna Demafelis were discovered in a freezer in an apartment in Kuwait.

But there must be a way to get justice for Demafelis and force Kuwaiti officials to guarantee OFW protection while allowing deployment of skilled workers who are not prone to abuses, unlike Household Service Workers (HSWs).

This corner prays that Kuwaiti officials, who are expected to arrive in Manila next week for talks with Labor officials, will agree to the additional conditions to protect OFW rights. The sooner a new agreement is inked, the better for our OFWs and their families and Kuwait’s economy.

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