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Maid friendly rules in new Kuwait-Philippines agreement
May 12, 2018, 4:35 pm
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Kuwait and the Philippines signed a new labor agreement on Friday that stipulates and regulates the living and working conditions for Filipino migrant workers in Kuwait. The accord is expected to bring an end to the ongoing dispute between the two countries stemming from the treatment of Filipino workers in Kuwait.

The agreement was signed by Kuwait’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Sabah Al-Khalid Al-Hamad Al-Sabah and the Secretary of Foreign-Affairs of the Philippines Alan Peter S. Cayetano. The two parties to the agreement are the Public Authority of Manpower (PAM) on behalf of Kuwait, and the Department of Labor and Employment of the Philippines.

The agreement, which will enter into force following notification by one country to another of completion of the necessary approval by national legal and legislative entities, will remain in force for four years and would be renewed automatically. The new agreement, which The Times Kuwait had the privilege to purview, contains a template for a labor contract to be signed between and employer and employee, which will need to be verified by the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait, through the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO), before its approval.

The accord underlines that Kuwait’s Domestic Labor Department will have jurisdiction to settle any disputes that arise between the two parties to the contract. The Department has been mandated to settle any dispute within 14 days of the initial complaint. If no settlement is reached, the case should be referred to the competent court, which should then hear the case within a period of 30 days from the date of referral. All cases related to the contract and filed by the domestic worker are to be free of all judicial charges. The pact also clearly states that employers would not be allowed to keep their employee’s personal identity documents, such as passport, and should provide employee’s with means of communication, such as through mobile phones, to contact their families, their recruitment agencies or the Philippines Embassy in Kuwait.

Other worker-friendly measures outlined in the accord include: Recruitment agencies in the Philippines will not be allowed to charge, or impose any salary deductions on a domestic worker, in lieu of their recruitment or deployment costs. The employer will facilitate the opening of bank account for their domestic worker and allow them 

reasonable opportunity to remit their monthly earnings to the Philippines. Workers will be entitled to one day off per week, seven hours of sleep per day, decent meals and sleeping quarters. There will also be a mechanism to provide 24 hour hot-line service that Filipino workers can avail of for assistance. On the sidelines of the deal, the four Filipino drivers who were recently detained for helping Filipina maids escape from their allegedly abusive employers in Kuwait had also been released.

The incident brought diplomatic relations between the two countries to a boil, with Kuwait designating Philippine Ambassador Renato Villa, persona non-grata and demanding his expulsion from the country, while recalling its own ambassador from Manila for consultations. The Philippines responded with its Foreign Ministry serving a diplomatic note to the Embassy of Kuwait in Manila conveying its strong surprise and great displeasure over the expulsion of the country’s ambassador. The Philippines Labor Ministry also clamped a total ban on deployment of all Filipino workers to Kuwait. The diplomatic row between the two countries, which had been simmering for the past couple of months, was sparked in February by reports of atrocities by employers in Kuwait against Filipino maids that often drove them to commit suicide.

This prompted an outburst on television by Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who alleged a lack of culture among Kuwaitis, and added that Arab employers routinely rape their Filipina workers, force them to work 21 hours a day and feed them scraps. Kuwait expressed its dismay at the President’s choice of words and allegations, while reiterating that Kuwait was a country of rules and laws.

The Kuwait foreign ministry stated that any crime on its soil would be investigated by the relevant authorities and perpetrators would be tried by the country’s fair and independent judicial system, renowned for its transparency, and for ensuring the rights and legal protection of all nationals and expatriates living in the country. But even as the words were playing out on global media, news of the murder and macabre disposal of the body of Filipino maid, Joanna Demafelis, by her employers in Kuwait hit the headlines.

This prompted an angry response from Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and the ordering of an immediate ban on deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait. He also called on the more than 260,000 Filipino workers in the country to return home. Relations appeared to recover after Kuwait’s Ministry of Interior announced that arrest warrants had been issued against a Lebanese man and his Syrian wife for the killing of Demafelis. After the wanted couple had been apprehended in Lebanon and Syria, Kuwait requested the concerned countries to extradite the criminals, even as a court in Kuwait sentenced the two to death in absentia.

Following the court verdict, there was a thaw in relations, with President Duterte announcing that the Labor Secretary would lead a delegation to Kuwait for talks with their Kuwaiti counterparts on workplace guarantees for Filipino workers. He also added that he would personally attend the signing of such an agreement in Kuwait. But the video recording of four Filipino drivers, reportedly hired by the embassy, to help besieged maids escape from their employers’ households, and the consequent expulsion of Ambassador Villa, derailed the bonhomie and suspended all talks between the two sides on the labor pact. Clarifying the incident recorded on video, Philippine Foreign Secretary Cayetano while disapproving of the release of the video and apologizing for it, nevertheless, defended the actions of embassy staff, citing urgency and that it was a matter of life and death.

Following the arrest by Kuwait authorities of three of those seen in the video, the Philippines foreign ministry protested about the detention, saying they were hired by its embassy in Kuwait to help with the “rescue” operations. The ministry also took issue with the arrest warrants against three diplomatic personnel. Kuwait then responded by saying that the Filipinos hired by the Philippine embassy and who did some acts that breached Kuwait’s sovereignty and laws, and whose practices reflected interference in Kuwait’s internal affairs, were being investigated and Kuwait had allowed Philippine embassy staff to visit them in jail.

Regarding allowing the Philippine foreign ministry’s diplomats involved in the incident safe passage out of the country, Kuwait said that though they were diplomatic staff visiting the country, they were not part of the Philippine Embassy staff accredited to Kuwait, and as such not entitled to diplomatic immunity. Kuwait demanded that the involved Filipinos, who had sought refuge in the embassy, should be handed over to the Kuwaiti authorities for investigation. The refusal by the ambassador to hand-over the staff subsequently led to his expulsion from the country. The new labor pact signed between the two countries is a welcome move to improve diplomatic relations between the two countries, and would hopefully better the living and working conditions for Filipino workers in the country.

However, more than any labor pact, what is clearly needed to stop the abuse of domestic workers, is a change in attitude by employers. Some people still consider their domestic staff to be somehow inferior human beings and not worthy of respect or humane treatment. Until there is a paradigm shift in this mental attitude, domestic helpers will continue to be mistreated. The best we can hope for in the meantime is that Kuwait law will be firmly on the side of the defendants and will stringently pursue and prosecute the perpetrators of such human rights violations.

- Staff Report

 

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