MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday told the United Nations the "kafala" sponsorship system that allows the "exploitation and oppression" of Filipino migrant workers "must be dismantled."
Commonly practiced in Arab countries, the kafala system requires migrant workers to have a sponsor in the host country so that a visa and worker's permit can be issued. This means that foreigners' right to work is dependent on their employers, making them vulnerable to abuse.
Million of Filipinos work abroad "under the most difficult and inhumane of circumstances," Duterte said in a taped video addressing the UN General Assembly.
"We call for the abolition of all structures that allow exploitation and oppression of migrant workers. The kafala system is one such behemoth that chains the weak, the desperate and the most helpless to an existence of unimaginable suffering," said Duterte.
"Nothing can justify the continued existence of this unjust system. While reforms have been made, the kafala system must be dismantled sooner or later in the name of justice and basic decency," he added.
The kafala system has led to non-payment of wages, restriction of workers' movement, denial of health care, "perpetual exploitation," and "outright murder," Duterte earlier said.
The Philippines has around 2.2 million migrant workers, whose remittances serve as lifeline to the Philippine economy, according to 2019 government data.
Saudi Arabia is the most preferred destination of overseas Filipino workers, who represent 22.4 percent of OFWs. The United Arab Emirates follows, hosting 13.2 percent of OFWs.
The Philippines will seek "stronger partnerships" to protect its overseas workers, Duterte told the UN.