Philippine officials are headed to Kuwait on Thursday to seek better protection for migrant workers after a diplomatic row over the alleged mistreatment of Filipinos in the Gulf state.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello told reporters on Wednesday that one of his deputies would lead the delegation, and that the officials would also stop in Saudia Arabia and Qatar to urge reforms.
Philippine officials are expected to primarily demand during the visit that Filipino workers be allowed to keep their cellphones and passports, which can be confiscated by employers.
The Kuwait trip comes after President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered a total deployment ban of Filipino workers to the Gulf state amid reports of abuse and maltreatment.
Just last week, Filipina domestic helper Joanna Demafelis came back in a casket from Kuwait after her body was found inside a freezer.
Duterte’s total deployment ban sparked a diplomatic flap between the Philippines and Kuwait as he alleged that Arab employers routinely raped their Filipina workers, forced them to work 21 hours a day, and fed them scraps.
Kuwait has invited Duterte for a visit but he has yet to respond.
Authorities said that some 252,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, mostly as domestic helpers. They are among over two million employed in the region, whose remittances are a lifeline to the Philippine economy.
“We are going to Kuwait tomorrow, Saudi Arabia and then on to Qatar to ensure that our overseas Filipino workers have sufficient protection,” said Labor Undersecretary Ciriaco Lagunzad, who will lead the delegation.
“We are afraid that because of the decision of the president to have a deployment ban, our overseas Filipino workers in Kuwait might be affected,” he added.
Lagunzad said Duterte had ordered the team to ensure that the passports of Filipino workers are deposited with the Philippine embassy there.
Duterte also wanted Filipinos to have access to cellphones so they can call for help in case of abuse, Lagunzad said.
About 10 million Filipinos work abroad and their treatment abroad is often a political issue at home.
Another team of labor officials said on Wednesday they would conduct negotiations with Kuwait next week on a deal to protect Filipino workers.
“Hopefully we can finalize the memorandum of agreement and by first or second week of March, we will have the signing by the Kuwaiti and Philippine governments,” said Claro Arellano, another labor undersecretary. /kga