MANILA: The Philippine Department of Labor and Employment said in a press release yesterday that in light of the fruitful meeting between the Philippine labor delegation and Kuwaiti officials, the labor department is set to move to partially lift the ban on the deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait. Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said he will recommend to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) governing board the relaxation of the deployment ban after the Kuwaiti government agreed to sign an agreement on the standard employment contract for Filipino household service workers.

“I had a fruitful meeting with my counterparts in Kuwait. Both sides agreed on the harmonized standard employment contract. I will talk with the POEA governing board to recommend the partial lifting of the ban,” Bello said. However, he added, lifting of a total ban will only follow unless an official status report is provided by the Kuwaiti government on the cases of overseas Filipino workers Jeanelyn Villavende, Constancia Dayag, Joanna Demafelis and a Filipina who was raped upon arriving at Kuwait airport.

“In the case of Villavende, I wanted some validation of their claim that they [accused employers] are formally charged and are behind bars. We have to be contented who have been charged and what are the nature of the charges,” Bello said. Upon the issuance of a decision on the partial lifting of the ban, the labor chief said they will allow skilled, semi-skilled and professional workers to be deployed to Kuwait, while newly hired HSWs are still covered by the prohibition. The balik manggagawa (returning workers) category on the other hand will be the subject of discussion and decision of the POEA governing board.

Last week, Bello, Undersecretary Claro Arellano, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) head Hans Leo Cacdac and Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) chief Bernard Olalia met with Kuwaiti officials to discuss and agree on a standard employment contract to ensure the welfare and protection of OFWs in the Gulf state.

The salient provisions of the standard employment contract include prohibition for employers to keep any of the worker’s personal identity documents such as the passport, and the entitlement of a worker to own a phone and use it outside working hours provided that she guards the secrets and privacy of the household, and use the phone in a manner consistent with public morals.

The OFWs are also entitled to a paid full day per week break and must not work for more than 12 hours a day. The worker should be allowed to have no less than an hour’s break after five consecutive hours of work, and the right to at least eight hours of consecutive night rest. Employers are also prohibited to assign a domestic worker to work outside Kuwait or be transferred to another employer without the OFW’s written consent. If this occurs without the agreement of the worker, the worker will be returned to the Philippines at the expense of the employer.

The employer should ensure the OFW’s adequate lifestyle and is obliged to provide medical treatment and nursing by registering her in the health system applicable in Kuwait. “All of the provisions which President Rodrigo Duterte requested were all granted. The harmonized employment contract should be retroactive and effective immediately,” Bello added. In early January, the labor department imposed a total deployment ban due to the alleged attempt of the Kuwaiti government to cover up the true cause of the death of Villavende.