MANILA - The Philippines and Kuwait may sign a memorandum of understanding for the protection of overseas Filipino workers by March, the Department of Labor and Employment said Wednesday.
Technical working groups from both countries will meet, possibly in Kuwait or in a more "neutral venue," by the end of February, said Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III.
"I’m willing to go to Kuwait as soon as the MOU is ready for signing,” he told radio DZMM
"Baka pag nalagdaan yang MOU na yan, this may be a very good reason for the President to reconsider yung total deployment ban. Pag napirmahan yan, we’ll have additional protection for our workers," he said.
Top of the provisions he would like to see in the agreement would be to ensure that the Filipino workers keep their passports instead of surrendering it to their employers.
"Pag hawak ng employer mo yung pasaporte mo, hawak ka na sa leeg...Dapat talaga hindi nila kunin 'yan dahil yang pasaporte na yan, hindi yan pagmamay-ari ng ating mga kababayan. Ang may-ari niyan ay ang gobyerno," he said.
He also wants a provision specifying working hours of OFWs, especially household service workers.
On President Rodrigo Duterte's orders, the Department of Labor and Employment enforced a total ban on the deployment of overseas Filipino workers to the Gulf state.
Duterte, who had earlier warned of pulling Filipinos out of Kuwait amid reports of deaths and abuses of OFWs, made the directive following the death of household service worker Joanna Demafelis, who was found in a freezer.
Bello met with some 300 workers displaced by the ban, who insisted that they were safe to leave as they are not household service workers.
He said the workers' concern was that their visas were about to expire and their employers are waiting for their arrival, but the earliest date of departure he noted was March 9.
He told the workers the President would "consider lifting the total deployment ban" with the MOU in place and the government can ensure that the employees would be " treated fairly" and "treated as human beings."
He also promised assistance to those whose visas will expire soon.
"Hindi nila (Kuwaitis) ma-afford na mawala itong ating mga manggagawa. They need them. They trust them. They believe in them. Kaya pag nawala ang mga Pilipino dun, mai-immobilize ang buong Kuwait," he said.
Bello said he will issue a directive to all Philippine Overseas Labor Offices this Wednesday to report to him within 24 hours "any incident that requires immediate action by our government or by DOLE."
"Pag hindi nagawa yun, ire-recall naming yung labor attaché," he said.