The ban on the deployment of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), particularly the household service workers (HSWs), may be expanded to cover other countries in the Middle East with known rampant cases of maltreatment and abuse of Filipino workers.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said the widened deployment ban may be resorted to if other Arab countries fail to assure and strengthen the protection of the rights and welfare of OFWs.

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

He 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, the Arab sponsor-employer has the 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.

DOLE, as part of its drastic measures to ensure protection of OFWs, sent a team to Middle East headed by Undersecretary Ciriaco Lagunzad to further assess the condition of OFWs and provide immediate response and assistance to their needs, as well as to recommend actions to deal with their situation.

Bello said that the report of the team will be a reliable basis for the amendment or enhancement of existing bilateral labor agreements with Arab countries in order 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.

Meanwhile, the labor secretary 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.

END/Abegail De Vega

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