Philippines urged to rethink new labor ban after maid's death in Kuwait

Beh Lih Yi, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Posted at May 23 2019 03:15 AM

KUALA LUMPUR - Migrant rights groups on Wednesday urged the Philippines not to impose a new ban on locals working abroad, after the death of a Filipino woman in Kuwait sparked outrage over the treatment of foreign maids in the Middle East.

The Southeast Asian nation, which has more than 2 million workers in the Middle East, put a temporary ban on its nationals working in Kuwait last year over fears of abuses, including the case of a worker who was found dead in a freezer.

The Philippines' labor chief said the government was considering renewing the ban after a Filipino maid died in the Gulf state last week amid suspicions of assault and sex abuse, reports quoted him as saying.

"A deployment ban itself is not effective, it won't stop the abuse," said Arman Hernando from Migrante International, an alliance of more than 200 groups representing Filipino workers.

The Philippines has about 10 million Filipinos working overseas, mostly in construction, nursing, entertainment and domestic help. Labor rights campaigners say low-paid workers risk abuse but are lured by the promise of better job prospects.

Hernando said a ban would only fuel trafficking as desperate workers would continue to search for jobs in oil-rich Kuwait.

"Even if there is a deployment ban, many workers will still travel abroad quietly, because there are simply not enough employment opportunities at home," the vice chairman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Manila.

The Manila-based campaign group Migrant Forum in Asia also urged officials to "find another way" to strengthen protections.

"The temporary deployment ban...does not help solve the problem," the group said in an emailed statement, referring to a ban imposed in January last year that lasted for four months.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has called for the immediate release of a forensic report into the death of Constancia Lago Dayag, 47, who had worked in Kuwait since 2016.

The department said this week it had engaged a lawyer to file a criminal complaint, while local media say the labour secretary is considering renewing the ban.

Labor department officials did not reply to a request for comment on Wednesday.

The Philippines lifted the earlier ban after the two countries signed a labor pact and agreed on measures to regulate employment, ending a diplomatic row.

Foreign workers in many Gulf states are employed under a sponsorship system that gives employers the right to keep their passports and exercise full control over their stay.

Domestic helpers account for more than 65 percent of the more than 260,000 Filipinos in Kuwait, according to the Philippine foreign ministry. The rest work in countries like the United States, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Singapore.