Duterte urges Saudi Arabia to include domestic workers in labor reform initiative

Published June 21, 2021, 2:16 PM

by Genalyn Kabiling

The Philippines is hopeful that Saudi Arabia will expand its Labor Reform Initiative (LRI) to cover migrant workers engaged in domestic work.

President Rodrigo Duterte (File photo/Malacañang)

The country has lauded Saudi Arabia’s reforms aimed at easing some contractual restrictions on migrant workers but President Duterte hoped that such initiative will apply to Filipino domestic workers as well.

Saudi Arabia introduced last March key reforms to the kafala sponsorship system, including allowing migrant workers to switch jobs and leave the country without an employer’s consent. Some rights groups however were dismayed that the reforms do not apply to other foreign workers, including domestic workers considered among the most vulnerable workers.

The Philippine leader earlier called for the abolition of the “unjust” and “exploitative” kafala system that ties migrant workers to their employers in the renewal and termination of their residency and work status in the oil-rich kingdom. The kafala system, prevalent in some countries in the Middle East, has long been alleged to be rife with abuse and exploitation.

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

According to the Palace, the President welcomed Saudi Arabia’s LRI as a “significant step towards addressing issues with the existing sponsorship system” in the kingdom.

“Saudi Arabia’s LRI is commendable, and President Duterte hopes for Filipino household workers’ inclusion in the reform initiative,” a Palace press statement read.

The President’s message was relayed by his special envoy to Saudi Arabia, Presidential Assistant on Foreign Affairs Robert Borje, during a meeting with Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development (MHRSD) Minister Ahmad Sulaiman Al Rajhi Sunday June 20. Also present in the meeting were Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs Sara Lou Arriola, Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Enrico Fos, and Philippine Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Adnan Alonto.

In the meeting, the Philippine delegation expressed commitment to work with Saudi Arabia in implementing its labor reform initiative, especially in advancing the rights and welfare of migrant workers, the Palace said.

READ: PH seeks to strengthen labor reform cooperation with Saudi Arabia

Presidential Assistant on Foreign Affairs Rober Borje hands over the letter of President Rodrigo Duterte for Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud on June 20, 2021. The letter was received on behalf of Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan by Saudi Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister Waleed bin Abdul Karim Al-Khuraiji. (Malacañang)

The two nations have likewise agreed to “further heighten cooperation aimed at ensuring the well-being of Filipino migrant workers in the Kingdom underscoring their significance in Saudi Arabia’s development.”

Both sides also remained committed “to work more closely together in bilateral and multilateral fora to highlight significant advancements in labor reform and fair migration.”

The government likewise asked for the support of Saudi Arabia’s human resources ministry in the areas of repatriation for distressed Filipino workers and improving accessibility of consular services to Filipinos in the kingdom.

A memorandum of understanding between the Philippines and Saudi Arabia on labor cooperation meantime will be forged soon. A technical working group has been crated to finalize the details of the agreement that will be based on Saudi Arabia’s LRI.

Government data showed more than 865,000 Filipinos are working and living in Saudi Arabia. From this number, around 410,000 are household service workers.