PH, Kuwait signing deal protecting OFWs

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 16) — The Philippines and Kuwait have finally approved the draft of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on the protection of Filipino workers in the Gulf state.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello said labor officials of both countries agreed to sign the document in two weeks.

He said the two-day long bilateral talks in Manila ended with the parties agreeing on contentious issues involving passports and employment contracts.

On Friday night, Bello told CNN Philippines the countries failed to reach an agreement because of difficulty in agreeing on these issues. 

But in a later interview, Bello said: "Contentious issues were resolved, no more deadlock."

He said the signing will most likely happen in Kuwait.

This is the latest development in the government's fight for better protection of overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in Kuwait.

The signing of the deal was one of the conditions President Rodrigo Duterte had set to lift the deployment ban to Kuwait.

The ban had been enforced following the death of worker Joanna Demafelis, whose body was found in a freezer last February.

Bello said there is no guarantee the ban will be lifted once the MOU is signed because Duterte previously said he also wants justice for Demafelis before sending new hires to Kuwait.

The officials agreed to allow OFWs to keep their own passports, or give them to the Philippine Embassy for safekeeping, to prevent employers from withholding the document.

The workers will also get to keep their cellphones.

Employers will not be allowed to transfer OFWs from one worker to another without the workers' consent.

Both parties also agreed to provide a $400 net per month salary. The employer will open a bank account where salary will be deposited, as proof the OFW is being paid.

Prior to the ban, Kuwait was a top destination for Filipino workers, with around 240,000 working there in 2016. The latest Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas data show remittances from Kuwait from January to November 2017 amounted to $735 million (P37.5 billion).

CNN Philippines' Triciah Terada contributed to this story.