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Our new agreement with Kuwait on OFWs

THE Philippines and Kuwait have agreed to move on from a dispute which, for a while, had threatened to break up their long-standing relations. They signed last Friday a Memorandum of Agreement that improves the working conditions of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Kuwait, and provides them with legal protection.

The two countries agreed to work together to uphold ethical recruitment policies, systems, and procedures, subject to their laws and regulations. The agreement provided a mechanism for inspection and monitoring of the level of care given to domestic workers. One specific provision specially welcomed by Filipino workers was that which banned the practice of employers’ keeping the passports of their workers.

Kuwait and other Middle East countries have long been host to thousands of Filipino workers, many of them working in the oil fields that have allowed these countries to push forward aggressively in their economic development. There are many professional OFWs in Kuwait – doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers, computer experts – but also many domestic workers. It is a symbiotic relationship. These countries need workers for their hospitals, schools, factories, businesses, households. Our people need employment.

This has given rise to the Filipino diaspora – the spreading of Filipinos to the farthest corners of the earth, working in a variety of situations. They are able to send money home to their families and the Philippine government benefits from their dollar remittances, which boosts the national income.

When, last month, President Duterte stopped any further deployment of OFWs in Kuwait because of the Dimafelis case, Kuwait was quick to hunt and later convict the Lebanese and his Syrian wife believed to have killed her. Then some embassy staff helped some OFWs escape and posted a video bragging of their exploit. However, this involved violation of Kuwait law and Kuwait expelled the Philippine ambassador. President Duterte responded with a new ban on OFWs for Kuwait.

Cooler heads have since prevailed, aware that the Philippines and Kuwait need each other at this point in time. And so the new Memorandum of Agreement was drawn up and signed last Friday.

The next step for our Department of Foreign Affairs is to examine our relationship with all the other countries hosting OFWs, look into the status of these workers, and see where the government can give further assistance to them. An agreement such as the one we just signed with Kuwait might be needed in certain other countries and we should start working on it before a Dimafelis kind of incident comes up to call for it.