The Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) has suspended the deployment of first-time overseas Filipino workers (OFW), particularly domestic helpers, to Kuwait.
DMW Secretary Susan Ople said the suspension was to ensure the safety and welfare of OFWs following the murder of of household service worker Jullebee Ranara last month.
“The application of first-time migrant workers specifically for household services in Kuwait shall be deferred until after significant reforms have been made and more safeguards are in place for their protection and welfare,” she said.
A series of talks between the Philippine and the Kuwaiti governments were scheduled to discuss OFW welfare.
Ople said she is optimistic that significant changes can still be made to the existing bilateral labor agreement between the Philippines and Kuwait.
The death of 35-year-old Ranara at the hands of the 17-year-old son of her employer sparked outrage in the Philippines and prompted officials to call for a deployment ban to Kuwait.
“Those who have never worked as domestic helpers abroad, including those who have worked as household helpers in other countries but not in Kuwait, would need to wait for their deployment because the department wants to ensure that there is a better monitoring system and a faster response system,” she said.
She said that total deployment ban is not being considered since it would affect around 260,000 OFWs, around 195,000 of whom are household service workers, currently in Kuwait.
Instead of Kuwait, Ople said domestic workers have several countries to choose from.
“Hong Kong remains a strong alternative and is much nearer to home, and we also have Singapore where we have very good relations with our counterpart ministry,” she said.
“We have also been informed through diplomatic channels of the willingness of the Kuwait government to engage in bilateral labor talks. We are preparing well in advance for these talks, bringing with us an accumulation of abuse done over the years, hence the need for significant changes,” she added.
She cited the good relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Philippines after the bilateral talks in November 2022.
“As a result of our talks with Saudi Arabia, a joint technical working group was created to thresh out various problems and concerns, and that group meets every week through virtual means,” Ople said.
At a Senate hearing, DMW Undersecretary Anthonette Velasco-Allones said they will suspend the deployment of first-time domestic helpers bound for Kuwait, and said the ban would last until reforms are laid down following talks with Kuwait.
Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva pushed for a comprehensive review of the bilateral labor agreement between the Philippines and Kuwait amid rising cases of abuse against Filipino domestic helpers there.
Villanueva made the call after another case of OFW abuse in Kuwait was reported following the death of Jullebee Ranara.
The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) reported that on Jan.21, OFW Myla Balbag fell from the third floor of her employer’s house in the residential area of Hateen while trying to escape an abusive employer who beat her for using the social media application Tiktok in her room.
“After these two unfortunate incidents, we need to carefully study if the policies are fair and being followed and clearly set the parameters on when to impose a ban and when to lift,” he said.
To further ensure the safety of our OFWs, Villanueva filed Senate Resolution No. 456 urging the executive department to ratify the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention No. 190 on the elimination of violence and harassment in the workplace.
ILO Convention No. 190 or the Violence and Harassment Convention seeks to protect workers and other persons in the world of work from violence and harassment occurring in the course of, linked with, or arising out of work with an accompanying recommendation that provides guidance in implementing the convention.
Villanueva said the Philippines’ ratification of the ILO Convention will provide the “impetus” to reflect on the principles of the labor standards and could provide the country the option to elevate the killings of OFWs to the ILO supervisory bodies.
“The brutal killing of Ranara happened even amid an existing memorandum of understanding between the Philippines and Kuwait on the kafala system, which lays down the obligations in the treatment and protection of foreign workers,” he said.
As of 2022, there were 24,549 OFW welfare cases in Kuwait of which, 8,755 were contract violation cases, 823 were physical maltreatment cases, 99 were sexual abuse cases and 26 were rape cases.
The Department of Migrant Workers data showed a significant increase in welfare cases from 2016 which was at 6,536.
“Let’s give our OFWs reassurance that their government is doing their best to make sure that they are protected and that their rights are not violated,” Villanueva said.
Kabayan party-list Rep. Ron Salo supported the suspension of deployments to Kuwait as a way to keep Filipino domestic helpers safe.