Manila officials visiting Kuwait amid worker row

Filipinos working in Kuwait arriving at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila yesterday, following President Rodrigo Duterte's call to evacuate workers after the body of a Filipino domestic maid was found stuffed inside a freezer in the Gulf s
Filipinos working in Kuwait arriving at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila yesterday, following President Rodrigo Duterte's call to evacuate workers after the body of a Filipino domestic maid was found stuffed inside a freezer in the Gulf state.

Murder of Filipino domestic maid sparks diplomatic dispute

MANILA • Philippine officials are headed to Kuwait today to seek greater protection for migrant workers, following a diplomatic row over the alleged mistreatment of Filipinos in the Gulf state.

Labour Secretary Silvestre Bello told reporters yesterday that one of his deputies would lead the delegation, which is also scheduled to make stops in Saudia Arabia and Qatar to urge reforms.

Topping the list is the demand that Filipino workers be allowed to keep their mobile phones and passports, which can be confiscated by employers.

The trip comes after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte last week banned the deployment of new workers to Kuwait, and ordered airlines to fly home any of the Filipinos working there who wish to return.

He was responding to the murder of a Filipino domestic worker whose body was found stuffed in a freezer in Kuwait this month.

Mr Duterte's ban sparked a diplomatic flap between the Philippines and the Gulf state as he alleged that Arab employers routinely raped their Filipino domestic maids, forced them to work 21 hours a day and fed them scraps.

Kuwait has invited Mr Duterte for a visit but he has yet to respond.

The authorities say some 252,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, many as maids. They are among over two million employed in the region, whose remittances are a lifeline to the Philippine economy.

"We are going to Kuwait tomorrow, Saudi Arabia and then on to Qatar to ensure that our overseas Filipino workers have sufficient protection," Labour Undersecretary Ciriaco Lagunzad, who will helm the delegation, said yesterday.

"We are afraid that because of the decision of the President to have a deployment ban, our overseas Filipino workers in Kuwait might be affected," he added.

Mr Lagunzad said Mr Duterte had ordered the team to ensure the passports of Filipino workers are deposited with the Philippine embassy in the country.

He added that Mr Duterte also wanted Filipinos to have access to mobile phones so they can call for help in case of abuse.

Another team of labour officials said yesterday that they would conduct negotiations with Kuwait next week on a deal to protect Filipino workers.

"Hopefully we can finalise the memorandum of agreement and by first or second week of March, we will have the signing by the Kuwaiti and Philippine governments," said Mr Claro Arellano, another Labour Undersecretary.

About 10 million Filipinos work abroad and the money they remit back is a lifeline of the Philippine economy.

Their treatment abroad is often a political issue at home.

AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2018, with the headline 'Manila officials visiting Kuwait amid worker row'. Print Edition | Subscribe