Philippine government to strengthen pre-departure program for Kuwait-bound OFWs

Overseas Workers Welfare Administration officials welcome Filipina workers returning home from Kuwait on February 18. Hundreds of Filipino workers returned to the Philippines from the Gulf nation with horror stories of abuse and hardship. (AFP)
Updated 05 June 2018

Philippine government to strengthen pre-departure program for Kuwait-bound OFWs

DUBAI: The Philippine government is strengthening its pre-departure information and education program for Filipino workers bound for Kuwait, a senior labor official said on Thursday.
“[The latest government effort] should ensure that Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) [bound to Kuwait] know their rights and responsibilities,” Hans Leo J. Cacdac, administrator of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) told Arab News.
An estimated 262,000 Filipinos are currently deployed in Kuwait, most of them employed as household service workers. There are about 10 million OFWs spread in 170 countries, with one million in Saudi Arabia alone, followed by the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Hong Kong and Qatar, among others.
“We are also boosting our personnel complement in POLO (Philippine Overseas Labor Office) Kuwait, through augmentation personnel and more regular plantilla personnel,” Cacdac said.
Labor and migration expert Emmanuel Geslani earlier commented that the labor situation in Kuwait, where there was high incidence of abuse and deaths specially among household workers, was partly to due a lack of welfare officers to monitor OFWs’ situation.
President Rodrigo Duterte in February imposed a ban on the deployment of workers to Kuwait, after being angered with the reports of abuse including the death of Joanna Demafelis, whose body was dumped in a freezer in an abandoned apartment.
“There were many complaints that abuse cases lodged before labor officials in Kuwait were not being acted upon. This may have eventually led to the unfortunate ‘rescue videos’ incident,” Geslani. “But generally, employers are willing to give up their employees especially if there is coordination with Kuwait police.”
Philippine-Kuwaiti diplomatic and labor relations hit their lowest last month, with the Filipino ambassador expelled and some embassy officials arrested, when videos of supposed rescue of distressed OFWs went viral and angered the Gulf nation for affronting its sovereignty.
Both countries, however, earlier this month signed an agreement that will further protect Filipino workers in the Gulf nation particularly household services workers, who can now keep their passports – or by embassy personnel – and also own mobiles phones aside from having a day off once a week. The Philippine government lifted the deployment ban to Kuwait last week.
“We will be part of the POLO team that will monitor compliance with the MOA, particularly in the area of welfare and protection of OFWs,” Cacdac said.


Protests in Lebanon after move to tax calls on messaging apps

Updated 21 min 14 sec ago

Protests in Lebanon after move to tax calls on messaging apps

  • Demonstrations erupted in the capital Beirut, Sidon, Tripoli and in the Bekaa Valley
  • Demonstrators chanted the popular refrain of the 2011 Arab Spring protests: “The people demand the fall of the regime.”

BEIRUT: Hundreds of people took to the streets across Lebanon on Thursday to protest dire economic conditions after a government decision to tax calls made on messaging applications sparked widespread outrage.
Demonstrations erupted in the capital Beirut, in its southern suburbs, in the southern city of Sidon, in the northern city of Tripoli and in the Bekaa Valley, the state-run National News Agency reported.
Across the country, demonstrators chanted the popular refrain of the 2011 Arab Spring protests: “The people demand the fall of the regime.”
Protesters in the capital blocked the road to the airport with burning tires, while others massed near the interior ministry in central Beirut, NNA said.
“We elected them and we will remove them from power,” one protester told a local TV station.
Public anger has simmered since parliament passed an austerity budget in July, with the aim of trimming the country’s ballooning deficit.
The situation worsened last month after banks and money exchange houses rationed dollar sales, sparking fears of a currency devaluation.
The government is assessing a series of further belt-tightening measures it hopes will rescue the country’s ailing economy and secure $11 billion in aid pledged by international donors last year.
And it is expected to announce a series of additional tax hikes in the coming months as part of next year’s budget.
On Wednesday, the government approved tax hikes on tobacco products.
Earlier on Thursday, Information Minister Jamal Jarrah announced a 20 cent daily fee for messaging app users who made calls on platforms such as WhatsApp and Viber — a move meant to boost the cash-strapped state’s revenues.
The decision approved by cabinet on Wednesday will go into effect on January 1, 2020, he told reporters after a cabinet session, adding that the move will bring $200 million annually into the government’s coffers.
Lebanese digital rights group SMEX said the country’s main mobile operators are already planning to introduce new technology that will allow them to detect whether users are trying to make Internet calls using their networks.
“Lebanon already has some of the highest mobile prices in the region,” SMEX said on Twitter.
The latest policy “will force users to pay for Internet services twice,” it added.
TechGeek365, another digital rights group, said it contacted WhatsApp and Facebook regarding the matter.
“A spokesperson mentioned that if the decision is taken, it would be a direct violation of their ToS (terms of service),” it said.
“Profiting from any specific functionality within WhatsApp is illegal,” it added on Twitter.
But SMEX said that the 20 cent fee would be “a condition of data plans” offered by mobile operators.
“Also, Facebook previously complied with a social media tax in Uganda, which is effectively the same thing,” it said on Twitter.
Growth in Lebanon has plummeted in the wake of repeated political deadlocks in recent years, compounded by the impact of eight years of war in neighboring Syria.
Lebanon’s public debt stands at around $86 billion — higher than 150 percent of GDP — according to the finance ministry.
Eighty percent of that figure is owed to Lebanon’s central bank and local banks.