MANILA - A former labor official on Saturday called for stronger monitoring and protection mechanisms for overseas Filipino workers following the death of another Filipina allegedly in the hands of her employers in Kuwait.
"The real challenge would be how to educate these employers, how to strengthen the monitoring mechanisms on site, and how to also have a less adversarial relationship between licensed agencies, government, and also the foreign recruitment agencies abroad. The weakest link would always be the worker," said Susan Ople, head of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center and a former labor undersecretary.
The death of OFW Jeanelyn Villavende has triggered a review of the bilateral labor agreement between the Philippines and Kuwait. Ople said it should also prompt a review of how stakeholders could meet and agree on a monitoring system that would actually work to prevent similar incidents.
An early report from the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Kuwait indicated that Villavende was "maltreated" by her employer.
Her employer has been arrested and is now in the custody of Kuwaiti authorities.
"We hope that when the joint committee composed of high level Filipino and Kuwaiti labor officials meet this month there would be reforms," said Ople on ANC's Dateline Philippines.
Ople said an important area that should be looked at is how recruitment agencies monitor living conditions of its workers.
"Are these monitoring and abuse prevention mechanisms here and overseas, do they actually work?" she said.
Following Villavende's death, the Philippines has imposed a partial ban on the deployment of domestic workers to Kuwait. The ban includes household workers, both new hires and those with expired contracts.
"We support the move of the Department of Labor and Employment. We also condemn the murder of 26-year-old Jeanelyn Villavende. She certainly did not deserve nor expected this kind of treatment from her female employer and the husband is an employee of the Kuwaiti government," said Ople.
She lamented that despite a bilateral labor agreement signed between the Philippines and Kuwait in 2018, abuses and maltreatment of OFWs continue.
"She's not an isolated case because the number of welfare cases in Kuwait has exceeded the number of welfare cases in Saudi Arabia which has an even bigger OFW population," said Ople.
Meanwhile, Ople urged government agencies to assist workers that would be affected by the ban.
"I think DOLE, DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) and the Department of Agriculture perhaps could put together an alternative livelihood and employment program for them," she said.
She added that it is important that workers, especially women, consider upskilling.
"The best protection for them would be the skills that they possess," said Ople.
She pointed out that regardless of destination, when workers leave there are inherent risks their jobs entail.
"Because once you enter the domicile of a foreign employer you become invisible not only to our government, but also to the government of the host country."