Gov’t may stop Filipino workers going to Middle East over ‘kafala’
MANILA, Philippines — The government may suspend the deployment of Filipino workers to Middle Eastern countries over the kafala system that has been blamed for abuses against foreign workers, including Filipinos, in Arab countries.
“It’s not far-fetched that if they won’t heed the call of our President, I may be ordered to suspend the deployment of OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) to countries that don’t want to abolish the kafala system,” Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said on Wednesday.
Bello made the remark a day after President Rodrigo Duterte denounced the visa sponsorship system prevalent in the entire Middle East as “unjust and exploitative” and called for its complete abolition.
“They know that the President made the call for the protection of our [workers]. If they won’t heed [his call], our direction is clear and that is to suspend or at least slow down the deployment of our OFWs” to those countries, he added.
The kafala system requires all foreign workers to have an in-country sponsor, usually their employer, who is responsible for their visa and legal status.
The system has repeatedly caused rampant abuses of foreign workers and some Arab nations—Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates—announced the abolition or reform of the system.
But local recruiters clarified that the abolition of the kafala system, in Saudi Arabia for instance, applied only to skilled workers and not to domestic helpers and low-skilled workers.
The reality on the ground led to the President condemning the system and urged Middle Eastern nations to abolish kafala entirely.
In Tuesday’s forum, Duterte said the kafala system had led to inhumane working conditions, nonpayment of wages, movement restrictions, health-care denial and sexual abuse.
Unjust, exploitative“As the world went into lockdowns, many were driven into destitution with no job, no social safety nets and no money to send back home. This cannot go on,” he also said.
Duterte said the Philippines recognizes the sovereign right of each state to adopt its own migration policy but universal liberties and moral standards must be observed at all times.
“This is why the Philippine government strongly calls for the complete abolition of the kafala system — sooner rather than later,” he said.
“The kafala system is unjust and exploitative. It places thousands of migrant workers, particularly household workers, in the most vulnerable situation — unseen, unheard and unable to defend their dignity as a human being,” he added.
He expressed optimism over Saudi Arabia’s Labor Reform Initiative, which he said would significantly improve the working conditions of migrant workers in the kingdom, including around 850,000 Filipinos.
“Certainly, the Philippine government assumes its part of the responsibility in ensuring that our people live in safety and dignity, wherever they may be,” he said.
“As I have said before, the Filipino is not a slave to anyone, anywhere. I dream of the day when working abroad becomes a choice and not a need for my countrymen,” he added.
The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration is a United Nations-backed intergovernmentally negotiated agreement covering all dimensions of international migration. It was endorsed by the UN General Assembly in December 2018.
The virtual forum was organized by the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Human Resource and Social Development, in cooperation with the International Organization for Migration.
Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and Undersecretary Sarah Lou Arriola participated in the event.
—WITH A REPORT FROM JEROM ANING
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