Silvestre Bello III Image Credit: Silvestre Bello III

MANILA: The Philippines and Kuwait agreed on a draft migrant labour protection pact Friday evening, Manila’s labour secretary said, after talks set off by the discovery of a maid’s body last month in a freezer in an abandoned apartment in Kuwait.

A ban on sending Filipinos to work in Kuwait will remain in place, Labour Secretary Silvestre Bello III said in a phone interview after the sides engaged in two days of talks resolved their last remaining issues over dinner.

President Rodrigo Duterte has said the ban won’t be lifted unless Filipinos get better protection in Kuwait and justice is served for the Filipina woman, Joana Demafelis, whose death sparked outrage in the Philippines. Bello said earlier that even if a pact was reached Duterte wanted to see justice served in her case before lifting the ban.

 ... Philippine officials have demanded that housemaids be allowed to hold their passports and cell phones, which is normal for skilled workers like teachers and office workers.


Bello said the pact would be signed at an agreed time and venue in the near future. The last issues to be settled 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.

Philippine officials have demanded that housemaids be allowed to hold their passports and cell phones, which is normal for skilled workers like teachers and office workers. But many Kuwaiti employers have allegedly 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 (Dh1,468) 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 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product.