By Genalyn Kabiling
The Philippine government on Tuesday partially lifted the deployment ban of Filipino workers to Kuwait following a landmark labor protection deal signed between the two countries.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque announced that around 20,000 skilled and semi-skilled workers are now allowed to travel to Kuwait amid the normalizing ties with the Gulf state.
But the deployment ban on Filipino domestic workers would be lifted only after certain reforms in recruitment are put in place, Roque added.
“It appears the friendly relations between the two countries have return to normal. Today, the deployment ban of skilled and semi-skilled workers to Kuwait will be lifted. There are 20,000 skilled and semi-skilled workers ready to depart for Kuwait,” Roque said in Filipino over government radio.
“The deployment ban of domestic workers may also be lifted in the coming days but there must be reforms first. There must be extensive training for domestic workers so they won’t get culture shock upon arrival in Kuwait,” he said.
Roque said recruiters could shoulder the training of the domestic workers bound for Kuwait. He noted that recruiters are reportedly paid $4,000 by Kuwaiti families to hire a domestic worker from Philippines.
He said these huge funds can be used instead for the training of domestic workers to avoid or reduce “friction” between workers and Kuwaiti employers.
The Philippines and Kuwait recently forged an agreement providing additional protection for Filipino workers in the Gulf State.
The memorandum of agreement includes the conditions set by President Duterte such as seven hours of sleep, access to food, cellphone and passport, a day off per week, and protection from abuse.
The signing of the labor pact indicated improving Philippines-Kuwait ties after a diplomatic row triggered by the rescue of distressed Filipino workers by embassy staff.
The President ordered a total deployment ban of Filipino workers to Kuwait last February following reports of abuses, including the brutal killing of Filipina worker Joanna Demafelis.
Lower remittance fee sought
Meanwhile, Leyte Rep. Henry Ong, vice chairman of the House Committee on Banks and Financial Intermediaries, asked the government to reduce to three percent the cost of migrant remittances.
He made the call following the recent signing of the crucial agreement between the Philippines and Kuwait and the subsequent partial lifting of the deployment ban to the Gulf state.
“I urge the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and the banking and remittance sectors to craft and execute an action plan to reduce to three percent the cost of sending cash remittances from overseas to OFW dependents,” he said in a statement.
He noted that the three-percent target is among the United Nations’ sustainable development goals.
“To reduce costs, the Bangko Sentral, banks and financial intermediaries must work in concert to streamline the cost structure, reduce cost barriers, and eliminate red tape,” Ong said.
Citing the World Bank, he said, globally, sending remittances costs an average of 7.13 percent of the amount sent.
“For the Philippines, key factors for reducing remittance costs are transparency, speed of transfer, margins on the exchange rates, systems security, and availability of remittance outlets near the residences of OFW dependents,” the House leader pointed out.
The World Bank estimates that if the cost of sending remittances could be reduced by 5 percentage points relative to the value sent, remittance recipients in developing countries would receive over $16 billion dollars more each year than they do now. (With a report from Charissa Atienza)