New rules will be set to protect OFWs

By: Jose Santino S. Bunachita and Morexette Marie B. Erram May 01,2018 - 10:15 PM

DAY OFF. Seven hours of sleep. Access to phones and passports.

These are just among the benefits that President Duterte wants the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to enjoy.

He wanted to include these clauses in the guidelines that he planned to draft himself to ensure the protection of the OFWs, in the wake of recent abuses suffered by Filipinos working abroad, particularly by those in Kuwait.

In a speech during the 116th Labor Day anniversary at the IEC Pavilion in Cebu City on Tuesday, President Duterte said he wanted the guidelines to form part the contracts of OFWs who will be sent out of the country in the future, and for their employers to comply with them.

These included a provision that will allow the OFWs the right to keep their passports, to have access to a phone so they can ask assistance when in trouble, to have at least seven hours of sleep, to be able to cook their own food, and to have a day off.

“There will be a new set of rules. Ako na magbuot mismo (I will personally decide). For example, any order signed by any agency of government in terms of deployment of workers, one is they must be treated decently, as a human being,” he told his audience composed of local officials and thousands of job seekers who were to join the jobs fair organized by the Department of Labor and Employment at the IEC Pavilion.

In the meantime, he said the country would continue to mobilize and provide assistance to around 260,000 OFWs in Kuwait who wished to return to the Philippines.

He said the government would look for the funds so that these OFWs could come home at no personal cost.

President Duterte, however, admitted that he wanted to quietly address the issue with Kuwait so as not to cause any trouble “because so much is at stake.”

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said on Monday that the Philippines was still trying to “normalize” ties with Kuwait and would be sending Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III and other Cabinet officials to the oil-rich Arab country on May 7 to meet with their counterparts and continue “diplomatic negotiations and conversations.”

The diplomatic row between Kuwait and the Philippines stemmed from the recent rescue of abused Filipino maids by Philippine Embassy staff in Kuwait.

The rescue had angered the Kuwaiti government, saying the act violated the country’s sovereignty and ordered Philippine Ambassador Rene Villa to leave the country.

But Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano claimed that he met with the foreign minister of Kuwait who reportedly told him that the controversial rescue operation was not a “breach of sovereignty.”

“We have a very positive response in a press conference with foreign minister of Kuwait, and they said it was not a ‘breach of sovereignty’,” said Cayetano.

“Meaning talagang kailangan mong protektahan yung mga kapwa mo (It means we have to protect your countryman),” said Cayetano.

“Kaya po doon sa iba na nag-criticize na hindi na dapat ni-rescue yung mga kababayan, parang sinasabi mo na inutil ang gobyerno and hindi po inutil ang Duterte administration (Those who criticized us that we should not have rescued our distressed countrymen, it is also like saying that the government is useless and the Duterte administration is not useless,” he added.

Cayetano said they were now planning to coordinate with officials in Kuwait to look into cases of abused OFWs.

“Out of the 800 who are in the custody of our shelter (in Kuwait), 120 are not assisted. Diplomats cannot even leave Kuwait. And we have cases of abused which are still pending and hindi gumagalaw (not moving). We have asked our Kuwait counterparts to look into that,” said Cayetano.

He also assured that a majority of OFWs in Kuwait remained safe despite its rocky relationship with the Philippines.

He pointed out that about 95 to 96 percent of the OFWs in Kuwait were in good situation and were treated as family by their employers.

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