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Workers’ protection

The murder of Joanna Demafelis whose body was found stuffed in a freezer in Kuwait this month is just one of the horrible tales often heard from Filipino maids working in the Middle East. Similar complaints of migrant Filipino maids being abused by their employers as evidenced by body contusions and other injuries have been heard before by authorities and relatives here.

Some of the victims are lucky and creative enough to retell their stories through e-mails and the social media, and plead for help. But they cannot easily leave their employers and workplace to escape the inhumane treatment—their cellular phones and passports are held by their employers. Moving away from their employers will make them undocumented Filipinos and an easy prey to the police.

Government officials may have heard enough. The Philippines sent a team to Kuwait to seek greater protection for migrant workers after a diplomatic row over the alleged mistreatment of Filipinos in the Gulf state. Topping the list are demands that Filipino workers be allowed to keep their cellphones and passports, which are often confiscated by their foreign employers.

Labor Undersecretary Ciriaco Lagunzad, who led the delegation, received instructions from President Rodrigo Duterte to ensure that the passports of Filipino workers are deposited with the Philippine Embassy. The chief executive also wanted Filipinos to have access to cellphones so they can call for help in case of abuse.

The plight of the migrant Filipino workers, of course, could have been avoided had local authorities been vigilant in the deployment process. Senator Franklin Drilon, a former labor secretary, noted that the deployment should only be in countries that have existing labor laws or those that are signatories to international conventions protecting migrant workers, or have bilateral agreements with the Philippine government for the protection of the workers.

The labor arrangement with Kuwait, meanwhile, must be reviewed amid the 185 deaths recorded in Gulf nation in the last two years alone. Workers’ protection should be top priority in the negotiations to prevent abuses and inhumane working conditions.

Some of the victims are lucky and creative enough to retell their stories through e-mails and the social media, and plead for help. But they cannot easily leave their employers and workplace to escape the inhumane treatment—their cellular phones and passports are held by their employers. Moving away from their employers will make them undocumented Filipinos and an easy prey to the police.

Topics: Joanna Demafelis , Kuwait
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