By Genalyn Kabiling
The proposed bilateral agreement enhancing the protection of Filipino workers in Kuwait will be signed possibly after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Malacañang announced Tuesday.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the Philippines and Kuwait are “serious” in forging the labor protection agreement as part of their “mutual need for each other.”
Roque made the remarks following the resolution of a diplomatic conflict over the rescue of distressed workers in Kuwait during President Duterte’s meeting with the Kuwaiti Ambassador Saleh Ahmad Althwaikh in Davao City last Monday.
“We still expect the MOA (memorandum of agreement) providing the minimum terms and conditions of employment for our OFWs to be signed soon. As in fact, they are already talking about possible dates and the possible date maybe after this year’s Ramadan,” Roque said during a Palace press briefing.
Roque noted the two countries have invested “time, resources and effort” to finalize the proposed labor accord that aims to give OFWs adequate food, rest and protection from physical abuse.
“I think both are serious in signing this MOU. We can’t deny we have to provide employment for countrymen, but I think the Kuwaiti side also has recognized they also need the services of our countrymen so it is in that sense of mutual need for each other that we negotiated the MOU,” he said.
Asked if the signing of the labor pact was affected after Kuwait protested the Philippine diplomatic staff’s rescue of some Filipino workers, Roque said: “I don’t think it was ever in danger.”
Meantime, the Palace could not yet confirm if President Duterte will still travel to Kuwait to witness the signing of the labor agreement between the two nations.
Roque said the President was determined to reduce his foreign travels.
“I’m not sure about whether or not the President will still go. He’s really tired of traveling and he’s trying to cut on travels. I have heard that he really wants to cut on travels. We’ll see,” he said.
President Duterte earlier said he might fly to Kuwait to witness the signing of the labor pact after Kuwait has reportedly agreed with his demands on the protection of OFWs.
The government earlier pushed for a labor protection agreement with Kuwait to prevent a repeat of reported abuses committed against Filipino workers.
It has proposed that passports of Filipino workers be deposited in the Philippine embassy for safekeeping, and not confiscated by employers. It also pushed for OFWs’ day off every week, seven hours of sleep, among others.
Roque admitted though that negotiations were still ongoing on some aspects of the proposed labor accord.
“We are continuing negotiations. I think we are almost at the point when we can say we’re there but not quite yet. There’s one or two controversial issues,” he said in a television interview.
He said there were discussions on allowing OFWs to get one day off every week or just cumulate the days for their vacation leave.
“We want it spelled out literally that it should be one day a week, whereas, they were thinking it could be cumulative. You don’t really have to have the one day per week, but you can cumulate it, for instance, if you want to go home to the Philippines,” he said.
Also being tackled was the provision seeking to let OFWs cook their own food, Roque said.
“We want to give the option to the … our workers to be able to cook which they don’t object to, provided of course there is no pork,” he said.
“Pero parang the misunderstanding there is, do we really have to say na kailangan pa silang magluto ng sarili nilang pagkain. Well, we’re not admitting naman na hindi sila pinapakain ng different food from what the family eats,” he added.
The President has also ordered a OFW deployment ban to Kuwait after expressing dismay over the discovery of the lifeless body of Joanna Demafelis inside a freezer in the Gulf state. Recently a Kuwaiti court has sentenced to death the employers of Demafelis, a development welcomed by the family and the government.