Bello: OFW deployment ban may be expanded to other ME countries

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Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III

Manila may expand the total ban on the deployment of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Kuwait to cover other countries in the Middle East where there is rampant abuse and maltreatment of OFWs, Philippine Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said today.

Bello said a widened deployment ban, particularly for domestic workers, may be imposed if other Arab countries failed to ensure and strengthen the protection of the rights and welfare of Filipino workers.

Manila earlier imposed a total on the deployment of OFWs to Kuwait due to the deaths and abuse of Filipino migrant workers there.

“For example, in Saudi, it is a common malpractice that the employer trades or switch their worker to other employers,” Bello said in a statement.

“That’s what they call the kafala system and it is always for consideration. We will impose the same restrictions (like in Kuwait) and will consider deployment ban if strengthened protection of our OFWs was not assured,” he added.

Bello also said that the prohibition of the kafala practice is among the provisions that the government is pushing for inclusion in the agreement being negotiated with Kuwait.

Under the kafala or sponsorship system, Bello said an Arab sponsor-employer has “entire control over the mobility of the migrant worker.”

An OFW, for instance, cannot quit work or transfer jobs without first obtaining the consent of his employer, which practically places the OFW at the mercy of his employer, he added.

The Department of Labor and Employment earlier sent a team, headed by Undersecretary Ciriaco Lagunzad, to the Middle East to further assess the condition of OFWs and provide immediate response and assistance to their needs, as well as to recommend the necessary actions to improve their situation.

Bello said that the report of the team will be a reliable basis for the amendment of existing bilateral labor agreements with Arab countries to provide further protection to OFWs.

“If there is an existing bilateral labor agreement but there are still rampant cases of maltreatment, then maybe we need to amend the agreement. The minimum demand of our President is that we will only deploy in countries where our workers are properly and effectively protected,” Bello said.

The labor chief also said that the OFW deployment ban to Kuwait stays amid the arrest of suspects in the case of Joana Demafelis, whose body was found in a freezer after being murdered.

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