Review of OFW deployment protocols sought after reported abuse in Middle East
Repatriates are welcomed at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 in this August 2020 photo

Review of OFW deployment protocols sought after reported abuse in Middle East

(Philstar.com) - March 8, 2021 - 8:46pm

MANILA, Philippines — Government should review its protocols on the deployment of Filipino workers abroad, the chairman of the Senate labor committee said Monday after thousands of abuse cases were reported in the Middle East last year.

Sen. Joel Villanueva, citing figures from the Philippine Overseas Labor Office, said 4,300 incidents of maltreatment of OFWs were reported in 2020.

His call came as the panel resumed public hearings on a proposed department for migrant Filipino workers' affairs. 

"Kahit mag-deploy tayo ng skilled workers, kung [ang] pupuntahan nilang bansa ay may mga ganitong patakaran, mahihirapatan tayo na protektahan ang ating mga manggagawa," Villanueva said, referring to the sponsorship system that is prevalent in the Middle East.

Known as the "kafala" system, the practice requires overseas workers to have the consent of their employers before they can exit the country or even transfer to other jobs.

It is also used among member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council as well as of Bahrain and Kuwait to monitor workers.

In September 2020, Qatar moved to abolish the kafala system and allowed foreign workers to transfer to other jobs before their contracts end. 

Some months later, a report by The STAR said Philippine officials will also seek to include Filipinos among workers not covered by the kafala system in Saudi Arabia.

"In the kafala system, the employees are oftentimes considered as property rather than workers because the employee (is deemed) indebted to the employer," said DFA Undersecretary Sara Lou Arriola, adding that OFWs under the system cannot just leave even if they are already being abused.

Apart from the 4,300 cases of abuse, Villanueva said contract violations in the Middle East also saw a surge to 21,127 reported cases. 

And, as the world marks the International Women's Day on March 8, he said measures in place should be strengthened significantly "because most countries they are deployed to are patriarchal by nature and by culture."

"We often hear of the narratives on how our women OFWs become good mothers, sisters, nannies of the children of foreign families instead of the Filipinos so we craft laws from these personal stories," he said, citing government numbers that showed 1.2 million OFWs are women.

The Philippines has been sending out migrant workers for decades, with dollar remittances playing a huge part in its economy.

While OFWs are often hailed as "heroes," government critics and migrant groups have said that the narrative hides the problem of generating more and better jobs in the country.

This leaves millions with no choice but to flee the country in the hopes of better wages and in turn, a better life for their families. But often, this comes with difficulties such as facing abuse from foreign employers, with cases even of deaths continuing to be reported. — Christian Deiparine

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