Filipino household service workers (HSW) holding Article 20 visas from Kuwait may now proceed to work in Kuwait after the Philippines government announced the decision to lift the deployment ban. The decision was made after the two governments reached an agreement regarding the working conditions of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Kuwait through a ‘standard contract’ signed by the two sides.

Kuwait and the Philippines reached the mutually accepted agreement following prolonged and protracted discussions on ensuring protection to the hundreds of thousands of OFWs in Kuwait. The agreement brought to an end the diplomatic row, which was sparked after an autopsy report by the National Bureau of Investigation in the Philippines found that the Filipino HSW Jeanelyn Villavende who was recently murdered by her employer had been continuously sexually abused and battered before her death.

The firmness of Philippines Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III to have murder charges filed against the perpetrators of the OFW victim reveals that the Philippines Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) will not accept maltreatment of Filipino workers.

Some of the conditions in the new ‘standard contract’ stipulate that the Kuwaiti employer is not allowed to keep the civil ID or passport of the worker. They are also prohibited from sending domestic workers to work outside Kuwait without the written consent of the worker. If this occurs without the agreement of the worker, the worker will have to be sent back at the expense of the employer. Filipino workers are also entitled to use their mobile phones provided that they maintain the family’s secrets and privacy in a manner consistent with public morals. Another important clause in the agreement prohibits the Philippines embassy in Kuwait from harboring Filipino domestic helpers who seek asylum at the embassy.

In 2018, relations between the two countries soured after the body of a Filipina worker was found stuffed in the freezer of her employer.  Diplomatic relations plunged further after a video was released showcasing the embassy staff helping Filipino workers flee from allegedly abusive employers. Kuwait termed this as a violation of its sovereignty and expelled the Philippine ambassador to Kuwait. The new agreement is expected to prevent such incidents and the Philippines embassy will now have to report all  workers who seek asylum at the embassy to the domestic workers’ employment department at the Public Authority for Manpower (PAM).

Earlier this month the Philippines had  lifted the ban on Kuwait’s Article 18 visa holders, allowing them to return to Kuwait. This was seen as a first step in ending the dispute that erupted last month. However, the question that still lingers in the minds of many is whether the new conditions stipulated in the ‘Standard Contract’ will help stop the widespread abuse of OFW workers.

Meanwhile, OFWs in Kuwait have different views on the removal of the ban and the new contract. Some are relieved as they see it as an opportunity to improve their financial situation. They believe that not all Kuwaiti employers are bad and, moreover, the salaries in Kuwait are something they cannot get in their relatively impoverished nation.

Others believe that a contract is a piece of paper and it would not stop the abuse against the Filipino HSWs. While this new harmonized contract brought relief for the Kuwaiti employers as well as they prefer Filipinos, housemaid, over options of other ethnicities.

The Times Report

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