Domestic worker's rape and murder could see Philippines review Kuwait labour agreement

Arrest made on Sunday after burnt body of Jullebee Ranara was found in Kuwaiti desert

A woman fills an application form for a job posting in Kuwait during a job fair at the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency in Manila in this September 20, 2010 file photo. An average of more than 3,000 workers leave the country daily to work as professionals, nurses, doctors, domestic helpers, seafarers and labourers overseas. The Philippines, the world's fourth biggest recipient of remittances after India, Mexico and China, received more than $1.5 billion worth of remittances monthly from Filipinos working and living overseas. REUTERS/Cheryl Ravelo/Files (PHILIPPINES - Tags: EMPLOYMENT BUSINESS SOCIETY) - GM1E6BJ1JLH01
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The rape and murder of a domestic worker could force the Philippines to review its labour agreement with Kuwait.

The incident has raised questions of a possible return of a temporary ban on worker deployments to the Gulf state.

The Philippines government says it is working with Kuwait authorities after the body of Jullebee Ranara, an overseas Filipina worker, was found burnt in the desert on Saturday. Authorities say she was raped and murdered.

Kuwaiti security forces made an arrest on Sunday, less than 24 hours after her body was found on Al Salmi road. An autopsy showed that the woman was pregnant at the time of her death, according to Al Rai newspaper.

“We will reach out to the Kuwaiti government,” Migrant Workers Secretary Susan Ople said at the Philippines Senate in Manila on Tuesday.

“Maybe it’s time to review the 2018 bilateral labour agreement so that it would be similar to the bilateral agreement with Saudi Arabia which has more safeguards for our workers.”

Kuwait and the Philippines signed an agreement regulating conditions for domestic workers in the Gulf state in March 2018. It ended a two-month diplomatic crisis sparked by reports that abuse by employers in Kuwait had driven several Filipinos to suicide.

Sunday's incident comes nearly five years after the murder of Joanna Daniela Demafelis, a Filipina domestic worker whose body was found in a freezer after she was killed by her employers. It sparked a diplomatic rift and saw former president Rodrigo Duterte impose a temporary ban on workers from the Philippines moving to the Gulf country.

But Ms Ranara’s murder will not lead to a deployment ban, Ms Ople said on Tuesday.

“We are looking at additional safeguards and reforms to make sure that our workers bound for Kuwait are better protected,” Mr Ople said.

The Philippines’ Overseas Workers Welfare Administration has documented 196 deaths of Filipino workers in Kuwait since 2016. More than 6,000 cases of abuse, sexual harassment and rape have been filed with the Filipino embassy since 2017.

Over 300 Filipino workers are set to return to the Philippines from Kuwait in the next two weeks, the country’s Department of Migrant Workers announced. Most are being repatriated after staying at a government shelter.

Updated: January 24, 2023, 1:21 PM