THE Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) is studying the possibility of suspending the deployment of Filipino household workers to Kuwait following the recent execution of a Pinay worker and the death of another female worker at the hands of her employer in the Middle East country. Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III has admitted that there have been mounting calls to temporarily stop sending household service workers (HSWs) to Kuwait due to abuses inflicted on our female overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
This is an opportune time for our government to revisit the policy on the deployment of HSWs not just to Kuwait but to other Gulf States like Saudi Arabia and Qatar. There is abundant data showing that our HSWs are the most vulnerable to abuse. In the confines of the household, they are subjected to long working hours, non-payment of wages, verbal and physical maltreatment. But our HSWs endure all these in order to provide a better life for their loved ones. Unfortunately, in some instances their deployment ends in tragedy.
Last 25 January 2017, the whole nation was shocked to learn about the swift execution of a Filipino migrant worker, Jakatia Pawa, in Kuwait. She was barely given time to prepare for her own demise. We’re told the government exerted every effort to save the life of Pawa, with former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo even asking a certain Spanish royal to intercede with the Emir of Kuwait but the victim’s mother adamantly refused to settle.
While the execution may be a fait accompli, the OWWA board of trustees chaired by Secretary Bello approved a package of non-monetary and monetary assistance and benefits for the family of the late Pawa even though she was no longer an active OWWA member. Secretary Bello believes that the government, particularly the OWWA, should help all OFWs and their families pick up the pieces of their lives, especially after a catastrophic event.
The same act of social conscience has been manifested in several cases: the mother of the two-year-old boy who was mauled to death by his guardians; the case of the eight seafarers reportedly missing; and several other instances where OFWs are in need of care and attention.
At OWWA, we try to maintain a pro-active stance to properly and timely assist families of the OFWs whose dreams were shattered, whose children were orphaned and whose lives were lost. We know that whatever assistance or benefits we’ve given will never truly compensate for the loss of a loved one, but hopefully, it will, in some way, allow the families they’ve left behind to move on.
But it is not only in tragic circumstances that OWWA and other government agencies are visible. The “One Country Team Approach” (OCTA) policy of the government applies to all OFWs wherever their workplace abroad might be. At the onset of any “significant” event, such as political conflicts or strife, epidemics, or welfare- and labor-related problems, the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in every Philippine embassy or consulate abroad is ready to be of assistance. As long as our “kababayan” is an OFW and needs help, he will always be welcome and given the assistance he deserves.
Of course, there is a different package of assistance benefits available to OWWA members (which is why an updated membership is important) but all our OFWs, whether they are members or not, are entitled to the same service under the OCTA. We will elaborate on these OWWA membership benefits in our future column.
Although at times, the families of the OFWs in distress may have been resigned to the fate of their loved ones abroad, we at OWWA do not let our guard down. Recently, Secretary Bello instructed labor attachés around the world, particularly those in migrant labor “hot spots” like Kuwait, to closely monitor the plight of our OFWs who have run afoul of foreign law. At OWWA, I have asked our welfare officers in different foreign posts to keep tabs of all OFWs in their area, especially those from the HSW group.
But a big part of our OFWs migrant experience rests in the hands of foreign recruitment agencies (FRAs) to whom our Philippine recruitment agencies (PRAs) send workers. Our PRAs should closely coordinate with their foreign counterparts to ensure that our OFWs are treated well and fairly in the workplace. Otherwise, our OFWs are no better than mere commodities.
With the recent unfortunate incidents involving OFWs, there is a need for additional legislation and regulations to protect the welfare and safeguard the well-being of the Filipino migrant workers, specifically in countries where, as a legislator friend of mine said, women are treated as second-class citizens, or worse, as a piece of property. And if this means stopping the deployment of HSWs, then so be it.