Doha–Labor and Employment Secretary Rosalinda Dimapilis-Baldoz, here in the Gulf State of Qatar on her way to the 3rd Abu Dhabi Dialogue in Kuwait, yesterday met with Qatar Labor and Social Affairs Minister, Dr. Abdullah Saleh Al Khulaifi, to discuss bilateral labor issues between the Philippines and Qatar. The two officials, exuding warmth to each other even if this was just their first meeting, promptly agreed to resume the talks on the existing agreement concerning the employment of Filipinos in Qatar at the level of the PH-Qatar Joint Committee Meeting (JCM) on Labor Matters.

“Ours was a brief, but a very productive meeting,” said Baldoz in a release to the media she issued after the meeting.

“Labor and Social Affairs Minister, Dr. Abdullah Saleh Al Khulaifi, and I agreed to resume the talks at the PH-Qatar Joint Committee Meeting in January. I have instructed our Philippine Overseas Labor Office to coordinate with the Philippine Embassy in Doha and with the Qatar Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs to fast-track the preparation of the agenda for the meeting,” said Baldoz.

“This will only be the second meeting of the JCM and Qatar will host it. The Philippines hosted the first JCM in Bohol in March 2009 yet, and I am very much delighted that after a hiatus, both countries have again exhibited strong initiative to resume the talks. This is long overdue,” she added.

The PH-Qatar labor agreement was signed on 10 March 1997, formalizing and outlining the procedures for the deployment of Filipino workers in Qatar.

Baldoz, who was joined in the meeting by Philippine Ambassador to Qatar Crescente Relacion and DOLE Undersecretary Ciriaco Lagunzad III, thanked the Qatari government through Minister Saleh Al Khulaifi for hosting 190,000 Filipinos in Qatar.

She also congratulated Qatar for winning the bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup and expressed hope this will open more opportunities for Filipinos in the infrastructure projects planned for the said event.

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs’ Report to Congress, January-June 2014, a total of 175, 000 of the 190,000 Filipinos in Qatar are regular migrant workers and dependents, while 15,000 are irregular or undocumented workers. In terms of job category, 22,000 of the regular migrant workers are professionals; 92,500 are skilled; and 29,000 are semi- or low-skilled workers.

“The number of household service workers has gone down from 33,000 in December 2013 to only 31,500 workers in June 2014,” noted Baldoz, who has been pushing hard for more protection among Filipino HSWs in countries of destination.

“We acknowledge Qatar’s hospitality in hosting our workers who we believe contribute greatly to Qatar’s economic development, thus, I have instructed our Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) to institute an incentive and rewards system for Qatari employers who are protective of our workers’ welfare,” she said to the Qatari labor minister.

“We are also continuously reviewing our rules and regulations to make it easy for foreign employers to hire Filipino workers. There is no reason why we should make it difficult for them to employ Filipinos when they treat them well. We assure you we continue to ensure that the workers we send to Qatar meet your manpower requirements,” Baldoz added.

On his part, Minister Saleh Al Khulaifi said Qatar is channeling its resources to further improve its economy and infrastructure, such as roads and public health facilities, and this means further need for skilled manpower. He said in one hospital alone, there is an immediate need for 500 nurses and medical technicians.

“Our employers like the Filipino workers very much, so much so that this is reflected in the very few complaints our legal affairs receive. To be honest with you, I have been very tough on those who mistreat migrant workers, particularly those who charge exorbitant recruitment fees. Of the complaints we received from foreign workers, we have solved internally 450 complaints and only 36 have gone to the courts,” Minister Al Khulaifi said to Baldoz.

During the meeting, Al Khulaifi outlined to the Philippine labor and employment chief some of the reforms Qatar is pushing in light of its desire to modernize its labor laws. One of these reforms, he said, is the e-payment Wage Protection Scheme, which allows the payment of workers’ salaries through electronic banking, and which now includes even foreign banks in Qatar.

He also said that Qatar has adopted technology-based kiosks that entertain and receive complaints.

“We have deployed these kiosks, which are like ATM machines, in strategic places. The facilities are equipped such that they “speak” five languages,” he said.

Al Khulaifi also briefed Secretary Baldoz on the developments on Qatar’s move to amend its labor laws, saying an amended law may pass the legislative hurdle this year. A part of this legislation is a proposal to replace the “kafala” or sponsorship system, It also provides for the abolition of the exit permit requirement for migrant workers leaving the country.

“We are moving from a sponsorship-based to a contract-based employment scheme for migrant workers and we hope our Parliament can accelerate the process,” Al Khulaifi finally said.

Baldoz congratulated Minister Al Khailifi for his country’s efforts to fast-track its labor law reforms, saying this augurs well to freer labor mobility. The meeting of the two labor ministers ended with a promise from both to see each other again at the 3rd Abu Dhabi Dialogue in Kuwait.

Minister Al-Khulaifi, who was appointed Minister of Labour and Social Affairs on 26 June 2013, holds a PhD in economics from the Southern Illinois University (USA).  He is also the Chairman of Qatar’s Constitutional Committee.

END

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