PH to push for worker right to keep passports, cellphones in talks with Kuwait

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 21) — The government is eyeing talks with Kuwaiti counterparts on February 28 to finally sign an agreement that will protect overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), an official said Wednesday.

"Actually we are requesting the Kuwaiti government na kung pwede po dito sa Manila gawin itong negotiation. We're still waiting for the response of the Kuwaiti government," Labor Undersecretary Claro Arellano said in a media briefing.

He said the government hopes to sign a memorandum of agreement (MOA) on labor cooperation by March. The proposed MOA has been pending for the last three years.

The proposed MOA includes allowing OFWs to keep their passports and cellphones which are often surrendered to employers.

"Kung hindi po sila payagang maghold ng kanilang passport, to have their passports deposited with the Philippine labor attaché in coordination with the labor agency," Arellano said.

He also said OFWs must be allowed to use their cellphones to communicate with families and government officials.

"We hope to help guarantee the safety and security of our migrant heroes," Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said in the same briefing.

He added a labor deal will "prevent the tragedy that befell" Joanna Demafelis, a 29-year-old domestic helper whose bruised body was found in a freezer in an abandoned apartment in Kuwait.

Her death prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to order the repatriation of OFWs who want to come home from Kuwait. The government also banned the deployment of new-hires to the Arab country.

Kuwait has been a top destination for Filipino workers. Latest data from Philippine Overseas Employment Administration state around 240,000 Filipinos are working in that country as of 2016.

Bello said he is also sending a team of senior officials led by Labor Undersecretary Ciriaco A. Lagunzad III, to Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia to look into the situation of OFWs.