Philippines lifts ban for Kuwait-bound workers

Filipino workers returning home from Kuwait fill out forms upon their arrival at Manila International Airport on February 18. The Philippines earlier banned the deployment of new workers to the Gulf country after the murder of a Filipina maid, who was found in her employer’s freezer. (AFP)
Updated 17 May 2018

Philippines lifts ban for Kuwait-bound workers

  • Around 262,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, nearly 60 percent of them domestic workers
  • Contract renewals should be approved by the Philippine Overseas Labor Office, instead of being automatic

MANILA: The Philippines on Wednesday lifted its ban on migrant workers heading to jobs in Kuwait, capping a diplomatic row sparked when a murdered Filipino maid was found in her employer’s freezer.
The news comes days after Kuwait and the Philippines inked a deal to regulate and protect the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos who seek higher-paid employment in the wealthy Gulf state.
The spat, simmering for months, reached its lowest point in April when Kuwaiti authorities expelled Manila’s envoy over videos showing embassy staff helping Filipino workers flee allegedly abusive bosses in Kuwait.
“President (Rodrigo Duterte) directed me to lift the ban totally... both for the domestic and skilled professionals,” Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello.
“The president deemed that our overseas workers are protected in Kuwait and he will no longer see incidents of maltreatment, hopefully.”
Around 262,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, nearly 60 percent of them domestic workers, according to the Philippine foreign ministry.
They are among the millions of its citizens the Philippines has sent to work abroad, seeking salaries they cannot get in their relatively impoverished nation.
The money they send back home accounts for about 10 percent of the Philippine economy.
Duterte in February prohibited workers from heading to Kuwait when domestic helper Joanna Demafelis’s corpse was discovered in a freezer in her employer’s home.
The president lashed out at Kuwait, alleging Arab employers routinely rape Filipino workers, force them to work 21 hours a day and feed them scraps.
Relations appeared to recover after a Kuwaiti court sentenced to death in absentia a Lebanese man and his Syrian wife for Demafelis’s killing.
Following the verdict, Duterte announced plans to visit Kuwait to seal an agreement on workplace safety guarantees for the Filipinos working in the Gulf nation.
But after the rescue videos were released by the Philippine foreign ministry and Manila’s ambassador was ordered out of Kuwait, relations plunged again.
Duterte declared on April 30 that the ban on Filipino workers leaving for the Gulf nation was permanent and urged his citizens to come home if they were being mistreated.
Kuwait sought to calm the confrontation a day later, calling it largely the result of a misunderstanding. Tensions quickly cooled and the two nations on Friday reached an agreement on worker protections.
“Even our labor diplomacy has improved and our relationship and diplomatic ties are now stronger,” Bello said on Wednesday.
A copy of the agreement seen by AFP says that workers will be allowed to keep their passports and cellphones — often confiscated by employers.
It stipulates that contract renewals should be approved by the Philippine Overseas Labor Office, instead of being automatic.
Employers must also provide domestic workers with food, housing, clothing and health insurance, according to the document.
The lot of migrant workers is a sensitive issue in the Philippines that gets used domestically for political purposes.
The government has for decades hailed overseas workers as modern heroes but advocacy groups have highlighted the social cost of migration, tearing families apart and making Filipinos vulnerable to abuse.


Israeli court bars ‘racist’ candidates from September poll

Updated 35 min 30 sec ago

Israeli court bars ‘racist’ candidates from September poll

JERUSALEM: Israel’s Supreme Court has barred two members of an extreme-right party many view as racist from running in a September 17 general election.
The court ruled that candidates Benzi Gopstein and Baruch Marzel, of the Jewish Power party could not stand, quoting a law barring “incitement to racism” by candidates, according to a court statement late Sunday.
Jewish Power members are followers of late racist rabbi Meir Kahane, whose Kach movement wanted to chase Arabs from Israel.
The ideology of Kahane, assassinated in New York in 1990, also inspired Baruch Goldstein, who carried out a massacre of 29 Palestinian worshippers in Hebron in 1994.
The court rejected petitions to ban the Jewish Power as a party and upheld the candidacy of West Bank settler Itamar Ben-Gvir, who heads its electoral list.
Ben-Gvir acknowledges having a picture of Goldstein in his living room, but has reportedly said it is because he was a physician who rescued Jews targeted in Palestinian attacks.
Indicted 53 times since his youth, Ben-Gvir boasts of having been cleared in 46 cases. He decided to study law on the recommendation of judges so he could defend himself.
He now represents settlers accused of violence, including those allegedly responsible for an arson attack that killed an 18-month-old Palestinian boy and his parents in 2015 in the West Bank, an incident that drew widespread revulsion.
Jewish Power advocates removing “Israel’s enemies from our land,” a reference to Palestinians and Arab Israelis who carry out attacks.
It also calls for Israel annexing the occupied West Bank, where more than 2.5 million Palestinians live.
Alone it was considered unlikely to garner the 3.25 percent of votes cast necessary to get into parliament.
But a deal mentored by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saw it entering an electoral alliance with two other far-right parties, improving its chances.
The pact drew disgust from many in Israel and among Jewish communities abroad, particularly in the United States.
For Netanyahu, the deal ahead of what is expected to be a close election was pure politics.
He defended it by saying he does not want any right-wing votes to go to waste as he plans his next coalition.