Philippines eyes employment agreement with Saudi Arabia

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines is eyeing a bilateral employment agreement with Saudi Arabia, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said on Friday, August 23.

In an interview with reporters, Bello said technical working groups from both countries were scheduled to meet and discuss the proposed agreement in the coming weeks.

“This group will discuss all the provisions and agreements that will provide protection for our workers,” Bello told reporters.

Among the measures that the Philippine government would push for inclusion in the  agreement is a template employment contract that would ensure that Filipino workers would keep their passport and cell phone, among others.

The proposed template contract will also detail working hours, sleeping hours, food arrangements, and procedures for transfer of work if needed, similar to the contract provided under the agreement the Philippines signed with Kuwait in 2018.

Why this matters: Bello said DOLE has noticed an increase in the number of incidents of abused overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

He added that among OFWs in the Middle East, Filipino workers deployed to Saudi Arabia were also among those with the most complaints on working conditions. An employment agreement was needed to address this and ensure Filipino workers were kept safe and respected.

(Workers will not be) deployed kung sa tingin namin di natin maprotektahan ang kanilang kalagayan (Workers will not be deployed if we do not think we we can protect their wellbeing)," Bello said.

According to Overseas Workers Welfare Administration Administrator Hans Cacdac, of the 33,000 Filipino workers repatriated in 2018, some 30% to 40% were from Saudi Arabia. Cacdac said the agency expects to see the same figures for 2019.

On Friday, some 100 OFWs from Saudi Arabia returned to the Philippines, accompanied by Bello. The workers had been living in shelters in Riyadh after they fled employers who did not pay they paid wages and mistreated them. 

Meanwhile, Bello said in response to question that the Philippine government would not hesitate to enforce a total employment ban if Filipino workers were abused by employers in their host countries.

That’s always under consideration kasi continuous naman 'yung monitoring. 'Pag nakikita namin na ang ating mga overseas workers hindi talaga maganda ang pagtrato, it’s not far fetched (That’s always under consideration because we continuously monitor. If we see our overseas workers are not being treated well, it’s (banning employment) is not far fetched)," he said. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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