Senators on Wednesday pressed for a deployment ban of overseas Filipino workers to Kuwait, saying OFWs cannot wait for the government to establish a tighter screening process on their foreign employers in the wake of the gruesome murder of domestic helper Jullebee Ranada this month.
“Reforms should have been done last year, 10 years ago,” said Sen. Raffy Tulfo in reaction to an exclusive story by Manila Standard on Wednesday, which noted that at least two Filipinos per day experienced violence in the form of physical abuse, sexual harassment, or rape in Kuwait last year.
“Relevant agencies must establish a tighter screening process on foreign employers to avoid abuse and maltreatment of OFWs. These include requiring them to submit a police record and pass a neuro-psychiatric exam to ensure that they are mentally stable,” Tulfo said.
“There should also be a pre-engagement orientation for foreign employers before letting them hire OFWs. The orientation should brief them about the importance of respecting Philippine culture and tradition,” he added.
Migrante International, an alliance of migrants’ organizations, also urged the government to take proactive measures to stop the continuing physical abuses, harassment, and other problems involving OFWs.
“Sending a fact-finding team to Kuwait to investigate only when a high-profile case of an OFW death occurs is part of the problem, and in fact demonstrates that Philippine government agencies and officials mandated to uphold and protect the rights of our OFWs have been passive in responding to cases of rights violations among our OFWs,” Migrante said in a statement.
The group cited 2022 yearend reports that showed a 51.4 percent increase in contract violations from the previous year, and an alarming 216 percent increase since the memorandum of understanding between the Governments of Kuwait and the Philippines was signed in 2017.
Since there is no total deployment ban for OFWs to Kuwait, senators cited the need to monitor their work conditions.
The Department of Migrant Workers imposed a ban only for first-timers to the Gulf state. Those who have been working in Kuwait and are renewing their contracts are not covered by the ban.
Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, the chairperson of the Senate labor committee, noted there should be a mechanism to regularly check on OFWs. Employers should be screened “to further assure our kababayans that they will not end up in the hands of exploitative and vicious individuals.”
“That’s why I want to recommend to the DMW to (totally) ban our OFWs from working in the state of Kuwait,” he added.
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri and Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda called on the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO) to finish preparing and ratifying international treaties, particularly on ILO 190 or the Violence and Harassment Convention of the International Labor Organization.
“Our efforts in signing the treaty will be useless if we cannot give more teeth to it,” added Legarda.
Sen. Cynthia Villar, an advocate of OFWs, said there are “other opportunities” in the Philippines that Filipinos can take since “the pay in Kuwait is not much anyway.”
“They’ll just endanger their lives there,” said the senator, who has been known for helping repatriate distressed OFWs, mostly coming from Middle East countries.
Sen. Christopher Go also urged the government to conduct a comprehensive study of the policies and measures for OFWs and make certain that Filipino migrant workers are safeguarded, while Sen. Risa Hontiveros said the government should protect all its citizens who have chosen to work overseas.
Tulfo said Kuwaiti employers might have to attend orientation seminars before being allowed to hire OFWs. He said agencies should set up a tighter screening process for foreign employers to avoid abuse and maltreatment of Filipino workers and require them to submit a police record and pass a neuro-psychiatric exam.
Migrante made its call on the heels of the Department of Migrant Workers’ (DMW) move to send a fact-finding team to Kuwait to audit the performance of migrant workers officers in the Middle Eastern country, ahead of a review of the bilateral labor agreement following the death of Ranara.
The group is hoping for swift justice for Ranara, whose burnt body was found in a desert in Kuwait.
“Were there no regular investigations and evaluations conducted by the Philippine government, at the minimum annually since 2017 to review and improve upon its own internal policies, measures, and systems?” said Migrante chairperson Joanna Concepcion.
She said the increasing numbers should already sound the alarm that the conditions of our OFWs in Kuwait are worsening and that policies of the Philippine government to protect them have not been effective.
“Decisive government action should have been done to address these weaknesses,” she said.
The data provided by the DMW most likely are conservative figures, they said, as it may not even account for the cases of rights violations among undocumented Filipino migrants and countless other cases that go unreported for fear of employer retribution, arrest, detention, and deportation.
“What is the government’s plan to protect them?” Concepcion said, adding some OFWs in temporary shelters in Kuwait report that at most they received two visits by PH government officials a month, and not all of the OFWs are attended to.
“However, monitoring alone is not effective. OFWs who experience violations of their rights and dignity must have access to justice mechanisms both in the host country and in the Philippines,” she said.