Llewellyn Perez

By Ben Garcia

KUWAIT: Despite the coronavirus pandemic, Filipino housemaids are continuing to abscond from their employers daily, according to the head of the social welfare office at the Philippine Embassy. But Welfare Officer Llewellyn Perez said the number of runaway housemaids has dropped to more than half. “We still receive 5-7 runaway maids daily,” she told Kuwait Times.

“Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the daily average was 12-15. The significant drop in housemaids running away could be because since December 2019, there have been no new housemaids deployed in Kuwait,” she said. “We were supposed to begin deployment at the beginning of March 2020, but the pandemic struck. All Filipino housemaids in Kuwait today are those that were here prior to December, so it’s about a year since we received our last household workers.”

Perez said once domestic helpers seek help from the embassy, they will be immediately processed for repatriation. “Within two to three weeks – depending on the availability of chartered flights – we send them home,” she said. The usual reasons for running away are mostly related to non-payment of salaries, mistreatment and harassment.

“So far since the pandemic, we haven’t encountered any grave or serious problems regarding housemaids. All issues of domestic helpers are considered and we accept them as valid and in need for assistance. We are always hands-on in the protection of our kabayans (countrymen) – this is our mandate and we have sworn to protect the welfare of Filipinos deployed overseas,” Perez noted.

Kuwait Times asked Perez about housemaids working illegally and against whom their Kuwaiti employers have filed absconding cases. “Those who are reported by employers as absconding have to wait until the employers cooperate. If the maids have their passports with them, they can easily leave the country. We normally ask recruitment agencies to help us in resolving their cases,” she said.

“But many agencies have closed, so we don’t know where to find the recruiting agents. If their agencies are still active, we communicate with them regarding their deployed workers. We also ask them to house the workers temporarily while we secure their repatriation,” Perez said.

Perez revealed around 200 runaway maids are currently at the shelter, and some are housed by the agency owners. “We don’t allow them to be deployed anymore if they run away. That is our policy. We have their records at the embassy, so no redeployment,” she said.

On Sunday, 99 domestic helpers were repatriated from the embassy shelter, with the cost of most if not all of their plane tickets shouldered by the Philippine government. “That is what our president wants – to bring home Filipinos if they decide to return to Manila, at the government’s cost,” Perez added.

Prior to the pandemic, the number of Filipinos in Kuwait was reportedly over 240,000, of which 165,000 were domestic helpers. “We don’t have the latest update from the Kuwaiti government yet regarding the population of Filipinos now. But as per our records, since the resumption of flights in June up till the present, we repatriated over 1,000 Filipinos from the shelter,” said Perez.

“If you include all domestic helpers, including those who left the country during the amnesty in April, our estimate is maybe 6,000. This figure does not include workers employed by various companies and those who were terminated and sent home by their companies. This data must come from the immigration department,” she concluded.

Employers of domestic workers can often pay upwards of KD 1,200 to KD 1,500 to hire a helper from an agency. The work relationship is supposed to be regulated under Kuwait’s domestic labor law and workers are to receive a full day off every week, no more than 12 hours work per day with rest, salaries paid on time each month and 30 days annual leave each year.

Many employers, however, fail to meet these basic contractual obligations. Moreover, many domestic workers abscond in the hopes of earning more income by working illegally as a freelance helper. These workers face legal problems however if they are caught and are often deported and banned from reentering Kuwait.