Kuwait tells Philippines to respect sovereignty amid labour dispute

Murder of Filipina domestic worker by Kuwaiti teenager this year forced Manila to review labour agreement with Gulf state

Around 190 Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) from Kuwait submit their documents upon their arrival at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, following President Rodrigo Duterte's call to evacuate workers after a Filipina was found dead in a freezer, in Pasay city, Metro Manila, Philippines February 23, 2018, REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
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Kuwait has told the Philippines to respect its sovereignty following talks in Kuwait City two weeks after the Gulf state stopped issuing new entry visas for citizens from the South-East Asian country over a dispute regarding their labour agreement.

“The sovereignty of the state of Kuwait and the dignity of its people is a red line,” said Kuwaiti Interior Minister and Acting Defence Minister Sheikh Talal Khaled after a meeting with representatives of the Philippines government that concluded this week.

“Kuwait is committed to its position after negotiations with the Philippines side and to international agreements concluded between the two sides.”

Kuwait said it would continue a temporary ban on all types of visas issued for Filipino workers but confirmed it would renew visas for those with a valid residence permit who wish to continue working in the country.

“Kuwait took this position as a result of the wrong practices of the Philippine embassy in the country and the crimes committed by the Filipino community,” Sheikh Talal added.

The Philippines and Kuwait signed a labour agreement to regulate domestic workers in 2018, when a dispute between the two countries led to a ban on Filipino workers after the murder of a domestic worker.

The killing of a 35-year-old Filipina maid by a Kuwaiti teenager this year forced the Philippines to review its labour agreement with the country.

The murder came nearly five years after the killing 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 led to then-president Rodrigo Duterte to impose a temporary ban on workers from the Philippines moving to the Gulf country.

In a statement released by the Interior Ministry, Kuwait listed nine actions by the Philippines embassy it said were in breach of the bilateral labour agreement, including accommodating workers in a private residence or a shelter linked to the embassy.

“Some of these workers are in violation of the residency law, or notices of absence have been issued against them,” the ministry said.

In 2018, Kuwait said that two Filipino embassy staff who appeared in viral videos “rescuing” Filipina domestic workers “were enticing female housemaids of the same nationality to escape from their employers’ households”.

Kuwait said it had given five conditions for the Philippines government for the reversal of its worker visa ban to be lifted, including that the Filipino side acknowledges “that it had committed violations and transgression of the laws, decisions and regulations in force in the state of Kuwait and for violating the diplomatic norms recognised between countries”.

The Philippines in February prevented first-time workers, especially domestic helpers, from being sent to Kuwait.

After the meeting, representatives from the Philippines requested a 72-hour period to allow the government in Manila to consider the conditions set by the Kuwaiti side.

The Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that the Kuwaiti government mainly had a problem with the shelters being operated by the Philippine embassy for distressed overseas Filipino workers who were rescued from allegedly abusive employers.

Kuwaiti officials did not directly demand the closure of the shelters at the Philippines embassy but said that Kuwaiti-run shelters be used for such purposes instead, Philippine Foreign Undersecretary Eduardo de Vega said earlier this week.

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.

Updated: May 24, 2023, 7:49 PM