Ban on skilled workers lifted but maid ban stays for now
KUWAIT: Four days after a labor deal was signed in Kuwait and after assuring the protection of its workers, a ban on skilled and semi-skilled workers from the Philippines was lifted yesterday. The lifting of the ban means new hires for skilled and semi-skilled work can now have their employment certificates processed at the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) and Filipinos will now be able to apply for jobs in Kuwait.
However, the ban on household workers stays. This was announced yesterday at a press conference by Philippine Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque at Malacanang Palace. “The ban was lifted by Secretary Silvestre Bello today,” he said. Roque said the lifting of the ban is expected to generate an additional 20,000 workers from Manila, but the door for housemaids remains closed. “The ban on domestic helpers will be lifted eventually – I just don’t know when, and what other reforms DOLE will make,” Roque said, adding that the office of the president is waiting for advice from Abdullah Mama-o, the special envoy to Kuwait, on the fate of the deployment ban.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte imposed the ban in February in the wake of reports that Filipino workers were abused and even died in Kuwait, including domestic helper Joanna Demafelis, whose body was found in a freezer at her employers’ residence. Last month, some videos of Filipinos rescuing housemaids in Kuwait went viral. Kuwait condemned the incident and insisted this was a flagrant violation of its sovereignty. Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Cayetano apologized if the videos offended the sensibilities of Kuwait, which accepted the apology but declared Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait Rene Villa persona non grata and asked him to leave the country.
The following day, Duterte asked his nationals to go back to the Philippines, stressing that the deployment ban on workers from the Philippines will now be permanent. But backdoor negotiations continue and on Friday, Kuwait and the Philippines finally signed an agreement for the protection of OFWs. It was signed by the foreign ministers of both countries.
Asked by reporters when they will lift the ban on domestic helpers, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) Deputy Administrator Arnell Arevalo Ignacio said it will be done soon, but will depend on the recommendations of some officials from the Philippine government. Duterte appointed Mama-o as special envoy to Kuwait and Ignacio is currently here to work on some details related to the implementation of the agreement.
“The memorandum of agreement is there and it was signed. But it is just a piece of paper and we have to do more, like for example the implementation, mechanism and some groundwork to meet the need of all stakeholders. The president wants me to work on some details. We didn’t sign this agreement just to leave it hanging,” he said. “I am here to make sure the agreement signed is really workable and that all suggestions and recommendations are heard one by one. We hear from all sides – from foreign recruiters to employers to workers; I go around Kuwait to hear everyone’s concerns. The MoA was the first phase, and the second will be implementing rules and guidelines,” he said.
He said several mechanisms should be implemented in order for the ban on domestic helpers to be lifted. One of his recommendations was for the FRA (Foreign Recruitment Agency) to set up several ‘day-off centers’ for Filipino housemaids. “Sponsors said one of many reasons why they are not allowing their housemaids to have a day off is because they are afraid they will be befriended by men and will run away. If we have this problem, shall we deprive our housemaids of their social life? Isn’t it boring to see your boss every day over and over again for the next two years or so?” Ignacio asked.
“Maybe there are solutions to the problem, so we are laying down some solutions, and setting up day-off centers is one good answer to employers’ apprehensions. We’ll try to set up the facilities for housemaids to enjoy – like sporting activities and so on – in that particular place. These people are humans and they need to socialize. They can do this in this special center, so that once a week they can have a day off with the rest of the ladies.
They are happy about this suggestion, and we’ve been pinpointing places where we can set up these centers. I think there will be day-off centers in several areas, like in Salmiya, Hawally, Farwaniya, Jahra, Fahaheel, etc,” he said. Another recommendation Ignacio suggested was setting up a training center for domestic helpers bound to Kuwait. “We need to address the issue of culture shock when they reach Kuwait. In the Philippines, we will train them and give them enough time to learn and understand Kuwaiti culture. They are heading to an unfamiliar place, so of course, they will be shocked,” he said.
“We are also looking at the possibility of setting up companies (maybe the recruitment agencies already here) that can hire domestic helpers and deploy them on an hourly basis. All these suggestions are being considered and we hope to come up with a solution to every difficult problem we encounter. This is a relationship issue, and we are dealing with it by talking. Thank God, if we say something, Kuwaitis listen, and we are very happy about it,” he said.
By Ben Garcia