MANILA: The Philippines halted on Wednesday the deployment of first-time workers to Kuwait following increasing reports of abuse, including murder, of Filipino migrant workers in the Gulf state.
More than 268,000 Filipinos live and work in Kuwait, where 35-year-old maid Jullebee Ranara was killed and her charred body found abandoned in a desert last month.
The killing had sent shockwaves across the Philippines, sparking calls for a deployment ban until a review of bilateral labor agreements. The Philippine government has so far suspended the accreditation of new recruitment agencies in the Gulf country and is now stopping first-time workers from seeking employment in Kuwait.
“The application of first-time migrant workers specifically for household services in Kuwait shall be deferred until after significant reforms have been made resulting from upcoming bilateral talks with the said country,” the Department of Migrant Workers said in a statement.
Migrant Workers Secretary Susan Ople said the department is not yet imposing a total deployment ban in consideration of other overseas Filipinos who had worked for years in Kuwait, and Philippine officials are preparing for talks with the Kuwaiti government.
Ople cited as an example the Philippines’ labor relations with Saudi Arabia, which since November have improved after the creation of a joint technical working group that holds virtual discussions weekly to flesh out various problems and concerns. With more than 700,000 Filipinos living in the Kingdom, it is the most popular destination for overseas Filipino workers.
“We have also been informed through diplomatic channels of the willingness of the Kuwait government to engage in bilateral labor talks. We are preparing well in advance for these talks, bringing with us an accumulation of abuse done over the years, hence the need for significant changes,” Ople said, as quoted in the statement.
Another abuse case emerged from Kuwait this week, after media reported that a Filipina worker was reportedly paralyzed after jumping from a window to escape her abusive employer.
There were more than 24,000 cases of violation and abuse of Filipino workers in Kuwait in 2022 according to Department of Migrant Workers data — a significant increase from 6,500 such cases in 2016.
But the latest policy to suspend the deployment of first-time workers is likely to affect Filipinos as well.
“The Department of Migrant Workers has issued a new advisory that would affect the deployment of 5,000 mobilized HSWs (household service workers) for Kuwait,” migrant work expert Emmanuel Geslani told Arab News. He based his estimates on the current number of workers deployed to Kuwait weekly, which is around 500.
Filipino lawmaker Ron Salo said in a statement that new workers headed for Kuwait should receive cultural training prior to their departure.
“We need to ensure that those who will be deployed in Kuwait … have the requisite experience and knowledge on the culture of Kuwait,” he said.