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Philippine government to strengthen pre-departure program for Kuwait-bound OFWs

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Overseas Workers Welfare Administration officials welcome Filipina workers returning home from Kuwait on February 18. Hundreds of Filipino workers returned to the Philippines from the Gulf nation with horror stories of abuse and hardship. (AFP)

DUBAI: The Philippine government is strengthening its pre-departure information and education program for Filipino workers bound for Kuwait, a senior labor official said on Thursday.

“[The latest government effort] should ensure that Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) [bound to Kuwait] know their rights and responsibilities,” Hans Leo J. Cacdac, administrator of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) told Arab News.
An estimated 262,000 Filipinos are currently deployed in Kuwait, most of them employed as household service workers. There are about 10 million OFWs spread in 170 countries, with one million in Saudi Arabia alone, followed by the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Hong Kong and Qatar, among others.

“We are also boosting our personnel complement in POLO (Philippine Overseas Labor Office) Kuwait, through augmentation personnel and more regular plantilla personnel,” Cacdac said.

Labor and migration expert Emmanuel Geslani earlier commented that the labor situation in Kuwait, where there was high incidence of abuse and deaths specially among household workers, was partly to due a lack of welfare officers to monitor OFWs’ situation.

President Rodrigo Duterte in February imposed a ban on the deployment of workers to Kuwait, after being angered with the reports of abuse including the death of Joanna Demafelis, whose body was dumped in a freezer in an abandoned apartment.

“There were many complaints that abuse cases lodged before labor officials in Kuwait were not being acted upon. This may have eventually led to the unfortunate ‘rescue videos’ incident,” Geslani. “But generally, employers are willing to give up their employees especially if there is coordination with Kuwait police.”

Philippine-Kuwaiti diplomatic and labor relations hit their lowest last month, with the Filipino ambassador expelled and some embassy officials arrested, when videos of supposed rescue of distressed OFWs went viral and angered the Gulf nation for affronting its sovereignty.

Both countries, however, earlier this month signed an agreement that will further protect Filipino workers in the Gulf nation particularly household services workers, who can now keep their passports – or by embassy personnel – and also own mobiles phones aside from having a day off once a week. The Philippine government lifted the deployment ban to Kuwait last week.

“We will be part of the POLO team that will monitor compliance with the MOA, particularly in the area of welfare and protection of OFWs,” Cacdac said.