MANILA, Philippines – Following the government's decision to suspend the deployment of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to Kuwait, Senator Joel Villanueva on Saturday, January 27, called on the labor department to prepare a contingency plan for the affected workers.
"We support the President's deployment ban to Kuwait, but we believe that this move must be accompanied with review and implementation of strict regulation," said Villanueva, chair of the Senate committee on labor, employment, and human resources development.
His statement came after President Rodrigo Duterte mulled banning the deployment of OFWs to Kuwait upon learning about cases of sexual abuse in the Gulf state.
Following the deaths of 7 OFWs in Kuwait, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) stopped the processing and issuing of overseas employment certificates to all Kuwait-bound workers.
Citing DOLE records, Villanueva said that, in just one year, there were reportedly 1,447 cases of maltreatment, 2,959 cases of contract violation, 227 sexual abuses, and 63 cases of rape of Filipino workers. (READ: Duterte to Middle Eastern countries: Do something to stop OFW abuse)
The senator called on the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, and the Department of Foreign Affairs to "double their efforts" to protect OFWs.
He also urged these government agencies to "immediately and effectively settle" cases of abuse being faced by Filipinos abroad.
More harm than good?
Meanwhile, international watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned that the deployment ban "would likely do more harm than good."
"Such a ban would likely do more harm than good, forcing workers to take greater risks to seek overseas employment while cutting off a critical source of income for families in the Philippines," said Rothna Begum, a researcher from the HRW's women's rights division.
Begum said, based on the experience of other countries like Indonesia, deployment bans "do not end these abuses."
"Instead, people desperate to work still migrate, but through unsafe and unregulated channels, leaving them more exposed to abuse and trafficking and making it more difficult to address abuses once they are working in the Middle East," she explained.
The country, she said, should advocate an end to the "abusive" kafala (visa sponsorship) system wherein workers are prevented from leaving or changing jobs without the permission of the current employer.
"[The Philippines] should also call for better enforcement of labor protections and improved cooperation from Middle East governments to work with the Philippines embassy to help rescue workers in distress and conduct investigations into worker deaths," Begum added. – Rappler.com
Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.