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Government ready for return of OFWs from Kuwait

Mayen Jaymalin - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has assured the public of the government’s readiness for the return of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from Kuwait if a total deployment ban is imposed. 

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III yesterday said the government is prepared and could provide alternative employment for Filipino workers who may likely be affected by the ban.

“I hope it will not (happen). But if the ban pushes through, I think we are ready in case OFWs will return home because there are alternative markets for them like China. For our medical workers, there is Canada and United Kingdom,” he added.

Bello said President Duterte would not hesitate to declare a total ban in deployment of OFWs to Kuwait if one more case of a Filipino getting raped or maltreated in the Arab country will be reported.

At this time, he stressed, the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) is investigating the suspicious deaths of seven Filipina workers in Kuwait. Their deaths also prompted Bello to issue last week a department order suspending the processing of overseas employment certificate (OECs) and deployment of newly hired OFWs to Kuwait.

“I am expecting the report from our POLO to be done in 15 days upon issuance of the suspension order. If it will be established that the deaths were caused by maltreatment and abuses, we will declare a total deployment ban,” Bello said.

But if foul play is not proven, the labor chief said he would order the lifting of the suspension in processing and deployment of OFWs to Kuwait.

He noted that DOLE has recorded a surge in cases of abuses among Filipino workers in Kuwait for the past year.

“From 2016 to 2017, we have recorded a total of 1,447 maltreatment cases among OFWs in Kuwait, a total of 2,959 contract violations, 227 cases of sexual abuse and 63 cases of rape,” Bello said, adding that he has already asked the POLO to explain the sudden increase in welfare cases.

He would not hesitate to relieve labor officials in Kuwait if proven that they have been neglectful in their duties.

Yesterday, he met with the Kuwaiti ambassador and representatives of the recruitment industry concerning the suspension in OEC processing and deployment ban.

He told them that he could not lift the suspension pending the results of the investigation as he assured them that the DOLE would fast-track the probe.

“Initially, the recruitment industry is asking for the lifting of suspension, but I told them that we cannot afford to deploy more OFWs without assuring that they are protected and making sure that violent deaths among our workers will not be repeated,” Bello stressed.

He clarified though that the suspension does not apply to returning workers and those who have obtained their OECs.

Prevent ‘decking’

Pangasinan 3rd district Rep. Rose Marie Arenas has denounced the new system for pre-employment medical examinations of OFWs bound for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member countries.

Describing the system as decking, Arenas called on the government to order an investigation and for the Department of Health (DOH) to immediately stop its implementation.

Decking, according to her, prevents a worker from choosing which provider they can have their medical examinations taken—a scenario she described as unlawful, dangerous and a form of exploitation.

“We need to investigate immediately and demand that the DOH stop the implementation of this new system for pre-employment medical screening for OFWs bound for GCC member countries,” Arenas said during a privilege speech last Monday.

She claimed this new system blatantly perpetrates decking and was designed precisely to evade the law and cheat the Filipinos again. She also cited a Supreme Court resolution that previously prevented this practice.

“Decking, in all its forms and by any name, is illegal and against our laws and puts our poor OFWs at grave risk,” Arenas added.

The practice, she pointed out, requires an OFW to go first to an office for registration and wait to be farmed out to a medical clinic located elsewhere.

This is allegedly grossly questionable because transactions are done through email, where applicants are required to follow these steps: log in and register at a website; provide personal information like countries of origin and destination, then go to the assigned clinics.

The third step, Arenas claimed, is unlawful because it uses the “equal distribution” system where the number of applicants is divided equally among the recognized clinics. If a clinic gets the total number that it should get, it is then taken out of the available choices, thus preventing an applicant to go to a facility of his or her own choice.

She noted that it is only after each clinic has received the same number of applicants would the clinic name reappear on the list of facilities to choose from.

“It is crystal clear that the new scheme is an online form of decking,” she added.

Arenas requested her colleagues to ask the DOH to explain why they allowed the implementation of a system that is “clearly a revival of the illegal decking practice.”

“We should ask the Department of Foreign Affairs to require the GCC to define the role of their Health Ministry and for us to put in place a protocol for consultation, dialogue and approval of GCC requirements and impositions,” she said, referring to the Gulf Cooperation Council—the association of countries of the Persian Gulf that includes Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman.

Aside from decking, Arenas also criticized the payment of $10 before an applicant can book an appointment.

“This is another scam, another form of exploitation,” she said, claiming that this is an “additional expense and a clear means to milk OFWs.”

 She said the Ministry of Health of the GCC stands to earn an estimated P164 million to P177 million a year by using this scheme.

“It is also on record that labor laws and practices in GCC countries do not provide enough protection for our OFWs, specially women who dominate the household service workers,” Arenas said.

The lawmaker stressed that “because our OFWs are desperate to give their loved ones a better life, they become easy preys” to abuses.

“They are ready to risk their lives only to end up dead or with broken dreams,” Arenas said. “If our OFWs cannot protect themselves, the government must do it for them.” – With Eva Visperas

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