PH-Kuwait deal offers better protection for domestic workers

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 13) — A 24/7 assistance hotline, the right to contact ones families and no deduction of salaries by recruitment agencies are among the conditions agreed upon by Kuwait and the Philippines to protest Filipino domestic workers.

In a copy given to CNN Philippines, the deal entitled, "Agreement on the Employment of Domestic Workers," was signed on May 11 in Kuwait.

It includes placing a system where local Kuwaiti authorities regularly inspect or monitor the situation of domestic Filipino workers.

The agreement named Kuwait's Department of Domestic Labor as the unit to settle disputes between the employers and Filipino domestic workers.

Kuwait will also provide legal assistance to workers and will not charge them for judicial fees at all levels of proceedings.

Also part of the deal is the activation of a "24/7 mechanism" for the distressed workers. They must also be allowed to use mobile phones.

It requires employers to allow workers to have cellular phones and use other means to contact their families.

Both countries also agreed that the employer cannot keep the overseas Filipino worker's (OFW) passports and other travel documents, because these are property of the Philippine government.

The agreement ensures that the employer will provide the domestic worker with food, housing, and clothing.

The employer should also register the worker in the health insurance system, which does not only cover work hazards but also transporting the deceased body to the Philippines when he or she dies, and pay the wages of the month when the worker died.

The Kuwaiti government will also help employers in opening of bank accounts for Filipino workers to allow them to remit their monthly salaries to the Philippines.

The agreed wage in the contract and minimum age requirement will be strictly enforced.

Moreover, the Kuwaiti government should disqualify employers from recruiting Filipino workers if they have any record of abuse or contract violations.

Domestic workers may only be transferred to another employer with their consent or with the approval of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office.

The deal also covers the repatriation of domestic workers in shelters in Kuwait.

PH government's obligations

For the Philippines part, domestic workers should have completed trainings to gain all required skills, and have gone through an orientation on Kuwaiti laws, customs and traditions before being sent to the Gulf state. They should also have gotten legal clearance from the Philippines before deployment.

Domestic workers should also follow Kuwaiti laws, morals, ethics and customs when in the country.

Philippine recruitment agencies are not allowed to charge or deduct from the salaries of domestic workers any costs for their recruitment or deployment.

Like Kuwait, the Philippines has agreed to punish erring recruiting agencies.

On Saturday evening, the second batch of 87 distressed workers from Kuwait arrived with Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque and Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III. The Kuwaiti government shouldered the airfare of the workers.

Missing conditions

Most of President Rodrigo Duterte's conditions were included in the recently signed agreement.

However, his conditions to ensure at least seven hours of sleep for OFWs and allowing them to have day-offs are not reflected in the document.

In Marawi City on Friday, Duterte expressed his willingness to lift the deployment ban in Kuwait if his conditions were met.

READ: Duterte open to lifting deployment ban in Kuwait

The President did not clarify if he was referring to a full or partial lifting of the ban.

Roque said on Friday that the deployment ban on skilled and semi-skilled workers will be lifted but not the ban on domestic workers, which this agreement covers.

The signing of the agreement follows a dispute between the two countries after the death of Filipina maid Joanna Demafelis, whose body was found inside a freezer.

Duterte issued a deployment ban to Kuwait in February and thousands of Filipino workers in the Gulf state have since been repatriated.

Kuwait is a top destination for overseas Filipino workers, with some 260,000 Filipinos working there as of 2018. Remittances from Kuwait for the first two months of this year amounted to ₱5.5 billion, according to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

In 2017, a total of ₱42 billion were remitted from the Gulf state.

CNN Philippines' Makoi Popioco, Luchi de Guzman, and Jerald Uy contributed to this story.