MANILA - The government will keep the ban on the deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait in a bid to open talks on the situation of Philippine nationals employed in the Gulf state.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Wednesday said the ban creates an opening for "fruitful negotiations" with Kuwait on reported cases of abuse and slave-like conditions for migrant workers under the so-called "kafala" system.
A common practice 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.
"The kafala or sponsor is not just a sponsor or employer as understood in the West but becomes a virtual owner of the household service worker in the concept of chattel," Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Ernesto Abella said.
"This is manifested in slavery work conditions such as no days off, no food, two to four hours of sleep daily, and maltreatment. Often, slave conditions including sexual slavery," he added, noting that 6,000 cases of abuses against Filipinos in Kuwait were reported in 2016.
The government imposed the deployment ban to Kuwait following the brutal killing of overseas Filipino worker (OFW) Joanna Demafelis.
Demafelis was found in a freezer at an abandoned apartment in Kuwait earlier this month, more than a year since she went missing. Investigation found signs of abuse.
Presidential Adviser on OFWs Abdullah Mama-o had earlier said the government should not allow Filipinos to find work in the Middle East under the kafala system.
Abella also bared reports that certain employers in the Middle East practice trading Filipino household workers among different families. He said an "audit" is being made in light of such reports.
"Philippine household workers have reported that certain families and employers are in the habit of trading household service help among families," Abella said.
"From our side, an audit is being made and we are also taking guidance from the President's statement that the primary consideration is the welfare and safety of OFWs and [that] this has priority over economic gains," he added.
DFA Office of the Middle East and Africa Affairs Executive Director Raymond Balatbat, meanwhile, noted that labor cooperation agreements with Middle East countries are being fast-tracked according to Abella to help improve working conditions and protect the rights of Filipino workers.
Some 252,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, many as maids. They are among over 2 million employed in the region, whose remittances are a lifeline to the Philippine economy, according to government data.