February 18, 2018, 5:58 am
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Deployment ban on Kuwait in force

THE Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) yesterday officially imposed a total ban on the deployment of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to Kuwait “effective immediately.”

“In pursuit of national interest, and with the advent of the series of reports involving abuse and deaths of OFWs in Kuwait, a total ban on the deployment of OFWs to Kuwait, pursuant to the directive of the President of the Philippines, is hereby enforced,” Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III read his one-page AO 54-2018 in a press conference after signing it.

“Ordinarily, an order to ban deployment should be approved by the POEA Governing Board. However, in view of this directive of our President, that action can be dispensed with, subject to a ratification later,” Bello said.

Under the ban, OFWs, both new hires and returnees, shall not be allowed to go to Kuwait.

However, Labor Undersecretary Dominador Say said the situation of OFWs who are only on vacation in the country and still have existing job contracts, are still under study.

Bello said a task force will fly to Kuwait on Feb. 20 to check on the conditions of Filipinos there and to determine the types of assistance they need.

He said another task force will handle the holding of job fairs in the Middle East to facilitate the re-employment of those affected by the deployment ban and those displaced by the political crisis in Qatar.

He said another team of labor officials will handle the repatriation of the workers from Kuwait.

Bello said as of yesterday, 377 out of 2,500 distressed OFWs in Kuwait have been repatriated via three commercial flights that left Kuwait on Sunday afternoon. 

They include OFWs who were granted amnesty by the Kuwaiti government for overstaying or those who escaped from their employers.

Bello said another 400 will arrive today and tomorrow.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said OFWs who opt to be repatriated are given P5,000 financial assistance and a P20,000 assistance for alternative livelihood.

Last Friday, President Duterte ordered the imposition of a total ban for returning workers and new hires to Kuwait.

Durerte also ordered Bello to work on the repatriation of all distressed OFWs in Kuwait within 72 hours.

The order came on the heels of last week’s discovery of the body of OFW Joanna Demafelis inside a freezer in an abandoned apartment in Kuwait.

Bello said he has ordered the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) to investigate the claim of the family of Demafelis that their case was not acted upon when they brought Joanna’s case before OWWA as early as February 2017.

Bello said if the claim is proven true, he will immediately order the recall of concerned personnel in Kuwait “and replace them with people more compassionate to OFWs.”

Bernard Olalia, administrator of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), said emerging markets can offer new jobs to repatriated OFWs.

Olalia said job orders may soon come from Japan, New Zealand, Germany, Canada and Czeckoslovakia.

Roque said Philippine missions in other parts of the Middle East have also been instructed to help find alternative employment for the OFWs who voluntary repatriated from Kuwait.

He said the Philippines is eyeing alternative employment in Oman and Bahrain, both signatories to International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention accords that protect migrant workers.

He said DOLE is also finalizing the mechanism for the deployment of Filipino workers to China.

Roque allayed concerns of possible retaliation by Kuwaitis against the Filipinos who remain in Kuwait, saying “the President is very carefully weighing our options as far as Kuwait is concerned.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) also encouraged overstaying Filipinos in Kuwait to avail of the amnesty program of the host government.

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Sarah Lou Arriola said the DFA is hoping that most, if not, all of the 10,000 overstaying Filipinos will be able to come home.

She said since the amnesty program started in Jan. 29, close to 4,000 Filipinos have already applied and have been processed.

A total of 2,229 Filipinos have already been issued travel documents while 1,754 have been granted immigration clearances. 

Roque said he is uncertain if President Duterte’s visit to Kuwait would still push through but it is still “under consideration.”

Duterte was invited to visit Kuwait by Ambassador Saleh Ahmad Althwaikh during their meeting in Malacañang. – With Jocelyn Montemayor and Reuters
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