The good, bad in deployment ban
After signing the labor agreement protecting the rights of Filipino domestic workers, the Philippine government announced the lifting of its deployment ban to Kuwait in May. The deployment ban was implemented last January following the rising death toll and mounting cases of abuse against Filipino workers.
The government’s initial implementation, and eventual cancellation, of the deployment ban puts a spotlight on the merits and downsides of this exercise.
Many Filipinos deemed President Duterte’s deployment ban as a welcome move. In fact, as early as 2013, appeals had been made to the Philippine government by Filipinos living in Kuwait to halt the deployment of Filipino household workers in the country.
According to a statement by an online group, Pilipino sa Kuwait, published in the Arab Times in July 2013, “The Philippine government must heed our call… to muster the political will to freeze the deployment of our women as household service workers to put an end to this decades of vicious cycle of recruitment-deployment-abuse.”
The country’s labor moratorium was also largely deemed a reasonable move in the context of a government with limited resources. The reality is that the Philippine embassy in Kuwait is burdened with overstretched personnel, but with an overwhelming duty to provide OFWs safe shelter and care, legal aid, repatriation programs, and rescue operations for abused workers.
Though their efforts may not always be enough to accommodate the large population of Filipinos in Kuwait, it is exceptionally unfair to accuse Philippine officials of not doing anything and failing to do their jobs given these restrictive conditions. Thus, continuing the deployment ban would have conserved embassy resources that could then be directed to serving other distressed Filipinos in Kuwait.
However, the ban has also invited criticism. It does not necessarily stop the influx of Filipino workers going abroad. Instead, people continue to migrate through unsafe and unregulated channels, leaving them even more vulnerable to abuse. Without government monitoring, the deployment
ban also increases the number of Filipino victims of human trafficking and illegal recruitment perpetrated by unscrupulous syndicates operating in both countries. Meanwhile, legitimate employment agencies and OFWs have argued that such a moratorium would rob them of their business or source of income.
Though the short-term repercussions of the ban might have been difficult for some, it was intended to safeguard Filipino workers in the long term. The expected result is the reduction of future cases of abuse. It was also meant to discourage Filipinos from going to Kuwait since the ban essentially tagged the Gulf state as “unfriendly” to Filipino domestic workers.
With the growing severity of death and abuse cases in Kuwait, it was hoped the ban would dissuade even the most desperate Filipinos from going illegally and risking their lives.
Finally, the embargo would have enabled Filipino workers and the Philippine government to look for and expand alternative destinations for work — places with more institutional safeguards and less cases of migrant abuse.
This is the reason Mr. Duterte’s decision to cancel the deployment ban may be deemed a risky move, though it has been hailed by some as a good solution to the recent diplomatic fiasco with Kuwait.
Allowing Filipino household workers to be deployed once again in a very conservative Muslim society where there is unequal treatment of women effectively increases the vulnerability of OFWs. Despite the adoption of a labor agreement with Kuwait that promises to protect Filipino domestic workers, the agreement is essentially hard to enforce, because it lacks specific sanctions against erring employers, and enforcement mechanisms such as labor inspections in private homes.
Moreover, the rigid Kafala or sponsorship system in Kuwait gives local sponsors enormous control over their foreign employees. This arrangement continues to render Filipino domestic workers susceptible to various forms of abuse.
Certainly, the Philippines can neither provide round-the-clock protection for its workers overseas, nor fully prevent its citizens from going abroad. Yet, despite criticisms against it, the deployment ban would have shielded Filipinos from further exploitation and tragedy in foreign lands.
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Andrea Chloe Wong previously worked as a foreign affairs researcher and college lecturer in the Philippines. She is taking her PhD studies in New Zealand.
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