Philippines says progress in Kuwait labour talks but not ready to lift ban

The country first enacted a ban on sending nationals to Kuwait in January

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said on Sunday that there were signs of progress in talks with Kuwait to protect workers but it was not yet prepared to lift its ban on deploying workers.

The country first announced a ban on sending nationals to Kuwait in January after several cases of domestic workers being driven to suicide by abuse were highlighted.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte cemented the ban last month and offered to fly workers home from the country for free after the body of a Filipino maid was found in the freezer of a Kuwait apartment more than a year after her employers had left the country.

Read: Philippines enacts ‘total ban’ on citizens working in Kuwait

The Department of Foreign Affairs welcomed progress being made in negotiations for a bilateral labour deal with Kuwait but said it hoped “more pragmatic measures could be included” so that it could recommend lifting the ban on deploying workers.

“As we move forward in the negotiations, we hope to incorporate more practical measures that would better protect our kababayans working there from exploitation and abuse,” said foreign affairs secretary Alan Peter S. Cayetano.

The official said Kuwait had agreed to conditions laid down by the Duterte including a minimum monthly salary for domestic workers of KD120 ($400), at least eight hours of rest per day, possession of their passports and mobile phones and limiting of work to one household only.

Read: Philippines delegation to visit Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi to demand worker protection

However, the Philippines wants a further agreement to have salaries paid directly into the bank accounts of Filipino workers whenever feasible and an effective mechanism to allow workers to file complaints with authorities. This came in response to instances of employers preempting labour abuse cases with their own legal action, Cayetano said.

“This [paying salaries into bank accounts] will ensure that our kababayans do not get shortchanged and will receive the salary they originally signed up for,” he added.

“We really must work with Kuwait to make sure we come up with an implementable agreement that would contain guarantees for the protection of our workers.”

Officials from the departments of foreign affairs and labour and employment will meet with workers on Monday to discuss heir concerns.

There are estimated to be more than 250,000 Filipinos working in Kuwait and two million across the Middle East. Instances of physical, sexual and psychological abuse of domestic staff are not uncommon in the Gulf Cooperation Council region despite recent efforts by some countries to give maids and other staff the same rights as the wider workforce.

Read: Abu Dhabi establishes prosecution unit for domestic worker abuse cases

Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah invited Duterte for a visit this month to help resolve the controversy.

Read: Philippines’ Duterte to visit Kuwait amid labour abuse controversy

The Kuwaiti side initially indicated he had taken up the offer but it was unclear if a visit would take place.