Philippines insists no apology needed in labour row with Kuwait

Gulf state suspended all new work visas for Philippines citizens in diplomatic escalation last week

Members of the Filipino community working and residing in Kuwait attend a meeting with their country's Labour Department Undersecretary for Workers Protection, Human Resource, and Internal Auditing Services Cluster, at the Philippines' Embassy in Kuwait City, on February 24, 2018.
The employers of the murdered 29-year-old Filipina maid Joanna Demafelis, whose body was found dead in a freezer in Kuwait, were both arrested in the Syrian capital Damascus, a Lebanese judicial official said on February 24.
The murder had sparked outrage in the Philippines and prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to impose a departure ban for Filipinos planning to work in Kuwait. / AFP PHOTO / YASSER AL-ZAYYAT
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The Philippines government has said it does not need to apologise to Kuwait after the Gulf nation demanded Manila acknowledge wrongdoing in an escalating row over workers' protection and employer rights.

Kuwait suspended all new work visas for Philippines citizens indefinitely last week.

It came after Manila stopped sending first-time workers to Kuwait in February, after the body of Jullebee Ranara, a Filipina maid, was found in a Kuwaiti desert in January.

Eduardo de Vega, the Philippines' Foreign Affairs Undersecretary, on Tuesday said: “Our position is that we have made no violations.

"If anything, they [Kuwait] need to listen to our explanation that embassies also have an international law obligation or function to protect their nationals.”

Kuwait highlighted what it considers several employment violations in the Philippines embassy, including housing workers in shelters, searching for runaways without involving state institutions, communicating with Kuwaiti citizens without permission from authorities and pressuring employers to add clauses to work contracts.

Kuwait says it would lift the visa ban on a number of conditions, including the closure of what it says are unapproved shelters for distressed Filipino workers at the Philippines embassy in Kuwait City.

FILE - In this Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, file photo, protesters picket the Senate at the start of the probe in the death of an overseas worker in Kuwait, Pasay city south of Manila, Philippines. The senate probe was prompted by the discovery of the corpse of Filipino domestic help Joanna Demafelis stuffed in a freezer in Kuwait with President Rodrigo Duterte ordering repatriations of thousands of Filipino workers and banned future deployments to the oil-rich nation. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez, File)

The shelter in question is the Migrant Workers and Other Overseas Filipinos Resource Centre, one of many at overseas Philippines embassies that were created under the Philippines Migrant Workers Act of 1995.

Such shelters are mandated to accept and look after distressed workers and house them while their cases are processed.

Kuwait this week said it was open to negotiations with the Philippines on the visa ban but only if Manila accepts its demands.

Jessica (C), sister of Filipina worker Joanna Demafelis whose body was found inside a freezer in Kuwait, cries in front of the wooden casket containing her sister shortly after arriving at the international airport in Manila on February 16, 2018.
The Philippines on February 12 expanded a ban on its citizens working in Kuwait after President Rodrigo Duterte angrily lashed out at the Gulf state over reports of Filipino workers suffering abuse and exploitation. Authorities say 252,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, many as maids, yet domestic workers there are not covered by ordinary labour legislation. / AFP PHOTO / TED ALJIBE

“The Philippine embassy must admit its violation of Kuwaiti laws and the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations," Kuwaiti Deputy Foreign Minister Mansour Al Otaibi said.

“The embassy must also pledge not to repeat its violations and that those responsible for these violations will be held accountable.”

A bilateral meeting was held two weeks ago after the government of the Philippines submitted a request to discuss the latest developments regarding the suspension of worker visas.

Large numbers of Philippines' citizens work overseas, with about 10 per cent of its GDP coming from remittances. Many work in oil-rich Gulf states such as Kuwait as low-paid domestic staff.

Opponents to the visa rules claim that because the system ties a worker to one employer, it makes migrants vulnerable to abuse – including employers confiscating their passports.

Updated: May 30, 2023, 12:44 PM