PH seeks to strengthen labor reform cooperation with Saudi Arabia

Published June 19, 2021, 11:25 AM

by Genalyn Kabiling

The Philippine is seeking to enhance the country’s bilateral relations with Saudi Arabia, particularly in the protection of thousands of Filipino migrant workers.

President Rodrigo Duterte confers the Order of Sikatuna with the rank of Datu (Grand Cross) Silver Distinction on outgoing Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the Philippines Dr. Abdullah Bin Nasser Al-Bussairy during a farewell call at the Malacañang Golf (Malago) Clubhouse in Malacañang Park, Manila on June 14, 2021. (Malacañang)

President Duterte has sent a special envoy to the oil-rich kingdom with a mission of “enhancing bilateral ties, advancing labor reform cooperation and ensuring the welfare of Filipinos in the Arab country, the Palace announced Friday.

Duterte earlier sought the abolition of the kafala sponsorship system to ensure the protection of overseas Filipino workers in the Middle East. The kafala system, prevalent in the Middle East, gives employers control over the mobility and legal status of foreign workers in a country. Saudi Arabia has already initiated reforms aimed at easing expatriate workers’ mobility.

In a statement, the Palace said Presidential Assistant on Foreign Affairs Robert Borje has been designated to visit Saudi Arabia and relay the President’s messages to the government.

The envoy, who left the country Friday, June 18, is expected “to convey President Duterte’s key messages on the importance of the partnership and cooperation between the Philippines and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”The President’s letter addressed to Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud will also be delivered.

The Philippine delegation is scheduled to hold meetings with officials of the Saudi Arabia Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development (MHRSD), the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking, and other concerned agencies.

Early May, the President and Saudi Arabia Crown Prince and Deputy Prime Minister Mohammed Bin Salman Al Saud reaffirmed commitment to strengthen relations between the two countries when they spoke over the phone. The Saudi prince assured Duterte about the kingdom’s resolve to protect and uphold the rights of Filipino workers. The two also agreed to ramp up cooperation to address the coronavirus pandemic.

READ: Duterte seeks abolition of Kafala system: ‘The Filipino is not a slave to anyone anywhere’

Last April, the President pushed for the abolition of the “unjust” and “exploitative” kafala or sponsorship system for migrant workers “sooner rather than later.” According to Duterte, the kafala system places “thousands of migrant workers, particularly household workers, in the most vulnerable situation unseen, unheard and unable to defend their dignity as a human being.”

Duterte also welcomed the labor reforms initiated by Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain. He said Saudi Arabia’s labor reform initiative will improve the working conditions of migrant workers, including the 800,000 Filipinos.

Duterte, known to champion overseas Filipino workers’ rights and welfare, also promised the government would continue to take measures to ensure Filipinos live in safety and dignity wherever they may be. “As I have said before, the Filipino is not a slave to anyone anywhere,” he said.