MANILA, Philippines (AP) – A ban on sending Filipinos to work in Kuwait will continue indefinitely after the nations failed to conclude a migrant labor protection pact, the Philippine labor secretary said Friday after talks sparked by the discovery of a maid’s body last month in an apartment freezer.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has said the ban won’t be lifted unless Filipinos get better protection in the oil-rich Arab nation and justice is served for the Filipina woman, Joana Demafelis, whose death in Kuwait has sparked outrage in the Philippines.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III told reporters that although the negotiators failed to conclude the labor pact in two days of talks, they agreed to hold more talks later. He said the unresolved issues involved the work contracts and the handling of passports of Filipinos in Kuwait, where more than 260,000 Filipinos work, many of them as housemaids.
“It’s an impasse only on two issues but not an impasse in the sense that both parties are still open to further discussion,” Bello told reporters.
Philippine officials have demanded that housemaids be allowed to hold their passports and cellphones, which is normal for skilled workers like teachers and office workers. But many Kuwaiti employers have seized the phones and legal papers, which Bello said prevented maids from rapidly seeking help when they were abused. Philippine officials have also sought a minimum monthly wage of at least $400 for housemaids.
Demafelis’ body was found in the abandoned apartment where she had worked for a Lebanese man and his Syrian wife, both of whom have been arrested. She had likely been dead for more than a year.
Many of the mourners at Demafelis’s burial in her central Philippine hometown demanded justice for her.
Her death is one of several that have brought attention to the plight of Filipinos working overseas in sometimes-unsafe environments.
About a tenth of the nation’s 100 million people work abroad to provide for families back home. Last year, those workers sent home more than $31 billion, accounting for 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.