54,000 new jobs at stake in Kuwait deployment ban

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 15) Close to 54,000 new jobs are at stake with the government's deployment ban to Kuwait, according to data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).

Kuwait placed 53,932 job orders with the POEA this year.

As of the first three weeks of January, 3,554 of those posts have been filled — but the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) were barred from leaving because of the ban, POEA Administrator Bernard Olalia said in an interview on Wednesday.

The government suspended deployment to Kuwait in January 19 after it discovered the deaths of seven OFWs, allegedly at the hands of their employers.

A total ban was announced on Monday after the body of domestic helper Joanna Demafelis was found stuffed in a freezer in Kuwait. Police believe she was tortured to death by the couple she worked for.

The POEA is advising OFWs hit by the deployment ban to ask their recruiters for new job placements.

Kuwait is the second largest employer of Filipino domestic helpers, but Olalia said demand was also high in countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Cyprus and Brunei.

"In Singapore alone, we have almost 150 thousand job orders there. In Malaysia, there is an opening of around 30,000. These are markets where they could redeploy our HSWs (household service workers)," Olalia said.

However, migration consultant Emmanuel Geslani said changing jobs would be easier said than done — especially for OFWs already keen to leave and make money abroad.

Workers would have to start the job application process all over again since their Kuwaiti contract will not be transferable to other countries.

"It takes almost two months to process a new contract worker," Geslani said in an interview on Thursday.

"You have to send the resume abroad, and then you need to have the contract signed there, submitted together with all the passport details. And then it comes back here to be approved by the POEA. You need to apply for the work visa, and only then can the overseas employment certificate be signed."

Even though household service workers are exempted from placement fees, the deployment ban still comes at a huge cost for OFWs.

"Certainly, there's the emotional stress that they would like to start earning money and they would like to fly to Kuwait," Geslani said.

"The family is waiting. Obviously if they were working by now, they would have salaries by next month to feed their family."

Geslani criticized the Duterte administration's "knee-jerk" reaction to the OFW deaths, saying it could have first reached out to the Kuwaiti government for negotiations.

While Kuwaiti jobs make a marginal contribution to the Philippine economy, the income OFWs earn from there is often the lifeline of their families, he said.

The POEA remains hopeful, though, that the deployment ban will be lifted in the near future. However, Olalia stressed the government would not rush until it could guarantee the safety of its workers abroad.

The Philippines wants Kuwait to sign a memorandum of agreement granting greater protection for OFWs working in the Arab country.

The POEA is also considering a new "live-out" scheme for domestic helpers in Kuwait. Workers will be housed in separate accommodations to lessen the risk of physical and sexual abuse when they live with their employers.

"If the President pushes through with his trip to Kuwait, it could speed up the progress of negotiations," Geslani said.

Olalia added that the Kuwaiti government has been "very apologetic" since the OFW deaths were reported.

"They reacted immediately, offering amnesty for our undocumented workers. We've long been working for that," he said.

An estimated 10,000 undocumented OFWs are expected to return home in the coming days.

Under the amnesty program, workers will be allowed to leave Kuwait without applying for an exit visa and paying penalties for staying in the country illegally.