Philippines seeks to end ‘misunderstandings’ with Kuwait on workers

Filipino Ambassador in Kuwait Renato PO Villa speaks during a press conference at the Philippines embassy in Kuwait City on April 21, 2018.

:: The Philippines on Tuesday welcomed an olive branch from Kuwait over their migrant labor row, days after President Rodrigo Duterte announced a permanent ban on Filipino workers going to the Gulf state.

The dispute, simmering for months, erupted last week when Kuwait expelled the Philippine ambassador over videos of embassy staff helping Filipino workers flee allegedly abusive bosses in Kuwait.

But Kuwaitis sought to end the crisis after Duterte said on Sunday that he was making permanent the departure ban in place since February, when a Filipina maid was found murdered in her body was found in her employer’s freezer.

Kuwait’s Deputy Foreign Minister Nasser al-Subaih said on Monday the row was “largely a misunderstanding” and “we do not believe in escalation”.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano welcomed that conciliatory message on Tuesday. “This gesture on the part of Kuwait, a country with which we have a shared history and strong people-to-people ties, will allow us to move forward,” Cayetano said in a statement.

“We affirm our friendship with the government of Kuwait and its people. The strength of that friendship will withstand this misunderstanding,” he added.

Cayetano apologized last week for the rescue efforts, but Kuwait called them violations of sovereignty before expelling the Philippine envoy and recalling its own ambassador from Manila.

Before relations plunged, Kuwait and the Philippines had been negotiating a labor deal that could have resulted in the lifting of the ban on Filipinos leaving to work in the Gulf state.

Worker safeguards

In a speech marking Labor Day, Duterte reiterated his long-standing condition that Kuwait implement more worker safeguards before the standoff can end.

“We are pushing for better protection of migrant workers especially those in vulnerable groups such as domestic helpers or household workers in the Middle East,” he said.

The president added the protections should include guarantees that Filipina maids be allowed to keep their phones and passports, which some employers confiscate to keep the workers in line.

Duterte also repeated an offer of free transport to Filipinos in Kuwait who want to return home, promising assistance when they get back. “We shall mobilize continuously till everyone who wants (to come back) will come home,” he said.

Around 262,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, nearly 60 percent of them domestic workers, according to the Philippine foreign ministry. Duterte previously said workers returning from Kuwait could find employment as English teachers in China, citing improved ties with Beijing.

The Philippines has sent millions of its people to work abroad, seeking salaries they cannot get in their relatively impoverished nation. The money they send back home accounts for about 10 percent of the Philippine economy.

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